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Hanukkah matters -- whether you’re Jewish or not

Hannukah 2012 begins this Saturday night at sundown, and while it is most definitely a Jewish holiday, it teaches a message which we all could use, whether we are Jewish or not.  It’s a message of hope, a message of human empowerment, and a message that reminds us that there is more to each of us than meets the eye.

Hannukah celebrates the fact that there is more possibility and potential – in us, in and in our world --than we almost ever allow ourselves to imagine. If we really knew and trusted that single principle, we could overcome many of the challenges we face, and even make some wonderful things happen, for ourselves and for others as well.  It’s a 2,000 year old premise – one which lies at the heart of the successes which Hanukkah celebrates, and one which can guide us to new successes again and again.

Hanukkah is a war story to be sure, the story of a small band of ancient Israelites fighting for freedom and especially for freedom of religion. But as much as Hanukkah is a war story, it is also a story of finding unexpected victories and unanticipated answers to the questions which confront us still.  

Hannukah celebrates the fact that there is more possibility and potential – in us, in and in our world --than we almost ever allow ourselves to imagine.

From the ancient battlefields of Judea, to the contemporary struggles for peace and security in the Middle East, to whatever deal gets worked out in Washington, success hinges on seeing more possibilities than are typically seen. Unless one is satisfied with the status quo, then one needs more than status quo thinking to create new solutions. As Albert Einstein put it, no problem can be solved at the level of consciousness which created it. If we want new and better solutions to the challenges we face, we need new and better thinking.  

Imagine it is the year 163 BCE; those who fought alongside Judah Maccabee finally enter the newly liberated Temple in Jerusalem, where they discover a little jar of oil lying on the ground in the war ravaged building.  They decide that it contains enough oil to light up the Temple even before they could possibly know for sure that it does, and light the Menorah – the seven branched lamp described in the Hebrew Bible.  

According to Jewish tradition, the oil lasted far longer than it should have. It lasted not for one day, but for eight, and that is why Hanukah is eight days long.  But the miracle really began with the decision to see that little jar as more than it first appeared to be – to see potential and possibility where others did not.

While nobody can promise miracles, we all know that our willingness to see world through those “Maccabean eyes” is so often what makes the seemingly impossible, possible.  It worked for them and it can work for us.

Imagine seeing yourself as both that jar of oil found in the Temple, and the person who dares to trust the depth of what the jar contains. That’s a Hanukkah story as meaningful today as it was when it first occurred.

Think of Hanukkah not simply as a way to celebrate the memory of something in the past, but as an 8-day refresher course in remembering how great you really are, a course in rediscovering how much untapped potential you have, and how much could happen if you truly trusted in both. Add to that, the ability to see others that way – to see life and the world that way – and you have a recipe for something truly amazing.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the author of "You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism," and president of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

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