By Eli Bass, Director of Jewish Life
The season of light is a critical time for us to work on clarifying our values. Chanukah, in particular, places a strong focus on our values. The holiday is a relatively minor one on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates the pre-common era victory of the Maccabees, a group within Jewish community, who fought against the Seleucid kingdom, which was transgressing Jewish laws.
The bloody war, led by the Mattityahu of Modiin, defeated the kingdom and resulted in the rededication of the temple, which had been defiled. The true historical story of Hanukkah is one of violence. This history, however, is not codified into Jewish scripture. Chanukah celebrates a military victory, but this is not the central story typically explored in Jewish homes.
The Hebrew word Chanukah translates to “dedication.” Dedication and oil are the central themes of the holiday. The Talmud, a book of Jewish law and practice, tells a story of rededicating the holy temple in Jerusalem. In the story, leaders of the rebellion were only able to find one small container of sacred oil; enough to light the menorah for one more day.
Legend teaches us this oil lasted a full eight days, until new oil could be produced. This traditional emphasis on oil should give us pause. Why celebrate a miracle jug of oil instead of an incredible military feat? In the Northern Hemisphere, Chanukah is near the winter solstice. It is a holiday where we celebrate light in darkness, encouraging spiritual awareness over military conquest.
Of course, this story is also a metaphor. How do we do more with less? How do we consistently live following our values? These are hard questions. Chanukah is a chance to recognize small miracles in our lives that make a big difference for our- selves and others.
As an environmentalist, I am personally captivated by the miracle of oil. When I think of oil, I tend to not think of the small pure vessel of olive oil in the temple. I look around and see oil all around me. It is in the plastic products that surround me and in the lights that keep me awake beyond sundown. Oil is a huge part of my daily activities and is an inescapable piece of living at this time. I also think about the negative effects of fossil fuels: removing mountains, contaminating drinking water, destroying air quality and creating violent storms. As humans and consumers, I believe we are all at fault.
I connect with the miracle of the Chanukah story. It is the story of how we can work to continue to empower our lives while reducing our environmental impacts. I know I need to challenge my- self with my own overuse of fuel: driving when I could walk, leaving lights on, and buying too much.
I celebrate innovation. Lighting and electricity use have become far more energy efficient. It is a miracle, as electric and hybrid vehicles become common and reasonably priced. Smart metering, energy star appliances and more efficient homes are all helpful in reducing environmental impacts.
Technology is also creating a substantial fall in the cost of renewable energy. Utility companies, like local power company PPL Electric, allow consumers to choose their power sources. Using fossil fuels has hidden costs. The costs to the planet and to human health are not mentioned on my electric bill. Personally, I choose to only purchase renewable energy. It is in this choice that I am able to honor the miracle of the oil. I pay a small premium for this, but to me it is being part of an energy miracle. It is a moment where I can align my consumption with my values.
Wishing you success on finals and Happy Holidays.