One of my favourite things about Chanukah is its name. In Hebrew, the word means rededication. It’s a sign of one part of the holiday’s origin story: the ancient and holy Temple in Jerusalem had been pillaged and defiled by invading armies, who threatened the Jewish community with death should they not renounce their identity and become pagans. Yet despite the immense power imbalance, a comparatively small group of Jews was able to fend off the invaders.
After defending Jerusalem, the Jews re-entered the Temple, cleaned it, and rededicated it as a sacred Jewish space. It was a time of immense joy and celebration, as the Jewish community was able to observe their traditions without being persecuted.
Can you imagine what it must have felt like? A minority, despised for being different, able at last to rise above the hatred and divisiveness; its people able to express their identity freely without fear.
The ancient Jews rededicated their most sacred of spaces. And in doing so, they rededicated themselves to what was most important to them.
So what is it about this word that inspires me?
Many spend the waning days of December mulling over new resolutions for the coming year: “I want to stop eating fried food.” “I want to lose 25 pounds.” “I want to be more like someone else.” “I want to be less like someone else.” It can be exhausting. After all, we all know the success rate of new year’s resolutions, right?
The word “resolution,” it turns out (and forgive the grammar-nerd moment, here), comes from a Latin word which means “to loosen,” “to dissolve,” or “to release.” It’s quite literally the opposite of the idea of rededication!
Along comes Chanukah with a simple, yet counter-cultural, reminder: you don’t have to release yourself from who you are. You don’t have to obsess over dissolving yourself into someone new. That’s not to say that we can’t grow and change. But sometimes, what’s most important is to rededicate yourself to who you already are and what you already believe in. To clean out all the junk – either imposed by others or self-imposed – that gets in the way and makes it difficult to be ourselves. Just like the Maccabees did in Jerusalem so long ago.
This year, as we head into the final month of 2018 and look forward to 2019, you can welcome Chanukah as an invitation to focus less on transforming yourself into someone else’s idea of who or what you should be, and more into returning to your strongest sense of self.
Wishing you a chag chanukah sameach – happy festival of rededication!