candle 88.298 aj.
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Thank God it is Hanukka this week - the holiday could not possibly have come at a more opportune or meaningful moment for the Jewish people.
Israel's elections may be just three months away, but the mud and dirt associated with campaigning have already begun to fly, filling the air and the news with a pall of internal dissension and political strife.
The Palestinians continue to fire rockets at Israel's towns and cities and to dispatch their youth on lethal missions of murder and mayhem, all of which are aimed at breaking our collective spirit and forcing us off still more of our land.
Neither Right nor Left seems able to offer much of a vision for the country's future, making it increasingly difficult to distinguish between them, while a seemingly record number of elected officials have either been indicted or are under investigation.
In light of all this, it is hardly surprising that some have started to wonder whether the dream that gave birth to this country might be running out of steam.
Yet it is precisely at times such as this, when our people are divided from within and under assault from without, that Hanukka takes on added resonance and significance.
Consider for a moment the principal ceremony of the holiday. The ritual centers around fire, which escalates in power and magnitude each night as we kindle additional candles over an eight day period.
I don't mean to be facetious, but the fact is that our nation's experience with fire over the centuries has been far from pleasant. From the flames which consumed the Temples in Jerusalem, to the medieval burning of the Talmud in places such as Paris and Venice, to the ovens of Nazi Europe, fire has served time and again to wreak havoc and destruction on the Jewish people.
In recent years, the shells of burned out buses on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and the inferno that consumed Joseph's Tomb in Shechem, served as painful reminders of our enemies' timeless, and searing, hatred.
IT ALMOST seems incongruous, then, to be using fire, of all things, to commemorate our deliverance from the Syrian-Greeks over two millennia ago. Couldn't some other less ironic instrument have been chosen instead?
But that is exactly the point, for it is irony which lies at the root both of the miracles of the past, and of those still yet to come.
Indeed, one of the central themes of Hanukka, as the special Al HaNissim prayer inserted into the liturgy states, is that God "turned over the strong to the weak, and the many to the few." In other words, what was incongruous, inconceivable and downright inexplicable nonetheless became reality.
And it is that theme - the irony of Jewish survival despite the odds - that embodies not only the story of Hanukka, but of our modern-day return and rebirth as a nation.
By striking a match and bringing a small flame into the world to light the Hanukka candles, we are sending a message of defiance. We are telling our enemies that all their efforts to consume us have and will come to naught, for we are still very much here.
And despite all the devastation they have wrought on us through the use of fire, we will not be deterred from kindling our own unique light, with which we will one day illuminate the world.
But there is, I think, still a deeper message to be found in Hanukka, one that is especially apt for a nation such as ours that finds itself so utterly divided.
When you next light the candles, take a few steps back and watch. If you look carefully, you'll see how the flames dance from side to side, each one moving with its own unique rhythm, flickering and sparkling independent of each other.
Some candles will burn faster, others will go slower. There are those which sit on the right side of the Hanukkia, and those whose place is on the left. Regardless, all come together at the base, which unites the disparate branches to fulfill one central purpose: creating a crescendo of light whose sum is greater than its parts.
That is the challenge facing Israeli society - to craft a framework in which each flame has room to dance individually while still remaining part of a cohesive whole. Obviously, this is far more difficult to achieve than merely kindling a few candles. But the lesson of Hanukka is that it can, and will, be done.
The writer served as deputy director of communications & policy planning in the Prime Minister's Office under former premier Binyamin Netanyahu. He is currently chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based group that assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people.