Is Life’s Ḥanukkiah half-full or half-empty?
In the Talmudic discussion about Ḥanukkah observance, there is an argument between the schools of Hillel and Shammai. Shammai’s school maintained that the Ḥanukkiah should be full, with eight candles, on the first night, and each subsequent night one candle should be removed. This, to signify that the miracle was running out. Hillel’s school, on the other hand, maintained that today’s practice was the correct one: one candle on the first night and eight candles on the eighth, since as time went on, the miracle was getting bigger and bigger.
Here we have a Jewish version of “is the cup half full or half empty”. Both opinions were factually true, but the question was one of perspective – are we excited that the oil is lasting longer, or are we worried that eventually it’s going to run out?
There is more, though, to this than a mere question of optimism/pessimism. Reducing the number of candles means that eventually, running out is inevitable. We will get to zero, and there will be no more candles to remove. By adding a candle each night, though, there is no limit; we could always add more candles.
We may be about to run out of candle space in our Ḥanukkiyot; the holiday of Ḥanukkah is about to conclude. But the messages and values learned and practised on Ḥanukkah should be extended beyond the physical bounds of the Ḥanukkiah. If we have been successful in our 8-day celebration, Ḥanukkah will continue much longer, in spirit.
Let us make this happen. Each and every day let us work together to make sure all people can live in dignity and freedom, free from oppression, free from shame, able to celebrate their cultures publicly to the fullest.
Shabbat Shalom and Ḥanukkah Sameaḥ!