Eight Days of Communal Light

Today, the 8th day of Hanukkah, brings to a close a season, beginning with Thanksgiving, dedicated to appreciation, gratitude and expressions of unity and restoration. 

At FJA, an important part of our mission is to inspire students to engage in thinking that is analytic, compassionate, and creative. Rabbi Hillel, in Pirkei Avot (1:14) said, If I am not for me, who will be for me, and when I am for me alone, what am I? We need to take time to think about personal needs and we also need to think of others and communal needs, and do so in appropriate proportions.  

Thanksgiving, a holiday devoted to gratitude, requires that we first think of ourselves and then others. Before we acknowledge what we are thankful for we first need to take stock of what we have, how we are blessed and then recognize that much of what we have is due, at least in part, to others – family, friends, teachers, mentors or coaches.

Hanukkah on the other hand, is a time devoted to recognizing that we are part of a collective. As we kindle the hanukkiah, countless others are lighting, have lit, or will light just as many candles, filling the world with “Jewish” light. In many neighborhoods, windows, doors or porches, often dark during the early winter nights, burn brightly and warmly demonstrating that Jews everywhere are part of a unified whole. 

When we think only of ourselves we risk becoming mired in our own patterns of thought and perspective. When we expand our thinking we realize that we are part of a network, having benefited from others’ beneficence and part of a greater community, having benefited more broadly and in turn, been kind and supportive of others. Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to extend our thinking beyond ourselves and recognize others; Hanukkah gives us the opportunity to see ourselves and others as one unified community. May the light of these past eight days of Hanukkah continue to brighten our community and may the reflection continue to fortify the bonds that link the Jewish people throughout the world.