by Rabbi Aaron Weininger
The so-called war on Christmas doesn't happen on the outside of a Starbucks coffee cup. The war on Christmas and the war on people of all faith traditions happens when cynicism and fear are allowed to corrode what’s inside, the soul. Donald Trump's call to bar Muslims from entering the US threatens to do just that to the soul of this country. His words threaten to silence the call engraved on the Statue of Liberty, "I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
The eight-day festival of Hanukkah, when Jewish people celebrate the miracle of light, concluded a few hours ago. There is a famous debate: whether to begin the holiday with a full Hanukkah lamp of eight candles and decrease by one candle each night; or to begin with one candle and increase to a full eight. The debate concludes-- we begin with one candle and increase--because we rise in matters of holiness, we don’t diminish in them-- “ma’alin b’kodesh v’ein moridin.”
We rise but don’t reach holiness. Tonight I rise because as light-filled as the Hanukkah lamp is on the last night, its light is still trying to reach cynical hearts and fearful minds. I rise to move beyond the ease of condemning a politician to reflect on the environment that has fueled this. I rise against the untrue framing of national security issues and anti-Muslim hostility which has occurred for years and with such popularity. I rise to reflect on the power of fear and cynicism, to resist their mighty grip in a violent world. And I rise precisely because of that violence—to elevate a path for people of faith to share differences in peace. Lest I think a full Hanukkah lamp extinguishes further religious obligations on my part, its full display inspires me to rise beyond the holiday and reach out.
Ugly rhetoric calls us to rise in holiness for a new reality. Light can become a consuming flame that destroys. Or it can rise to illumine a new way here, in Minnesota, in this community. We don’t reach it but we rise for it. We elevate it, we publicize it, as Jews are commanded to do with the light of our Hanukkah lamps. I stand proudly, humbly, speaking from my tradition—for what it taught my ancestors (bayamim ha’hem) and what it teaches me now (bazman hazeh). I hope it is but one small piece of light joined by the beauty of yours. As we rise in the holiness of showing up together, may we lift our lamps beside golden doors to ensure that every soul—and that the soul of our country, this community—is blessed with peace.
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