'By spreading light,' Hanukkah menorahs brighten holiday
Once a year, the lights on congregation Beth Shalom's outdoor menorah flicker on after dusk in Scranton.
Tonight, two bulbs will brighten. Tomorrow, three.
"We light each light," Rabbi Yisroel Brotsky said. "Another light goes on every single night."
The large electric menorah that spills light onto Clay Avenue is just for show - the congregation's main menorah is fueled by oil and lit in ritual fashion. But it fulfills a primary purpose of the Hanukkah holiday: to celebrate and publicize the miracle that allowed a night's worth of oil to last for eight.
Publicizing the miracle is described as a guiding principle for the holiday in the brief discussion of Hanukkah in the Talmud, the body of Jewish law and tradition, Rabbi Daniel Swartz of Temple Hesed in Scranton said.
"It's the nature of what Hanukkah was originally about - that we don't all have to be the same."
Ancient Jews used the oil to rededicate the desecrated Holy Temple in Jerusalem after they drove out the Syrian Greeks who tried to suppress them and their religion.
Instead of highlighting a martial symbol of the victory, like a sword or a warrior, the rabbis that established the holiday emphasized the menorah, a sign that is "beautiful for everyone," Rabbi Swartz said.
"The easiest way to be proud of who you are is to put someone else down," he said. Instead, the menorah makes you proud "by spreading light."
Hanukkah lights and celebrations are spread throughout the community, in homes as well as houses of worship. Lit menorahs are placed in windows and doorways for passersby to notice and admire.
"It's the obligation of every household individually to celebrate this miracle, to gain this appreciation," Rabbi Brotsky said. "It's part of the Jewish home."
At Temple Hesed, the annual congregation Hanukkah dinner is a BYOM event: Bring Your Own Menorah.
"It's really fantastic when you get 50, 60, 70 menorahs being lit at the same time," Rabbi Swartz said.
More personally, he remembered past Hanukkahs when he was a boy, and again when his daughter was younger, when a favorite private ritual on the eighth night was to step outside for a different view of the candles in the window. In the dark, they watched until the lights burned out.
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