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The Festival of Shining Light Outwards

Listen to Miriam's latest Radio 2 - Pause for Thought here:

It might be the darkest week of the year, but my mood is on the up because tomorrow is the Jewish festival of Chanukah!

When our kids are back from school, we’ll do our annual ritual of taking down the net curtains from our front window and setting up our 9-branched candle holders. We’ll sing the blessings, light the candles and freak out when the cat gets too close. We’ll indulge in all the delicious oily foods that are traditional in remembering the miracle of a day’s worth of oil lasting eight days, long ago.

It’s a bit of light in the darkness, as of course Christmas will be in a couple of weeks, and as was Diwali a couple of weeks ago. And in these cold, dark days, when good news is so hard to come by, we need this more than ever.

But it’s not obvious that we’d fill the winter gloom with candles.

The wise Kotzker Rebbe said that there are two things a person could do to fight the cold. They can build a fire, or they can wrap themself in a warm coat. In both cases, the person is warmer. But when one builds a fire, all who gather round will also be warmed. With the fur coat, the only one who is warmed, is the one who wears the coat.

I love how this time of year is filled with metaphorical fires which keep us warm and warm other people. Carol singing in public, shopkeepers in santa hats, lots of charity giving… and if you’re anywhere near Jews at Chanukah then many little candles and doughnuts at every opportunity!

The great Rabbi Maimonides said that if nobody else can see your Chanukah candles, then you haven't fulfilled the mitzvah of candle lighting. Because it’s the festival of shining light outwards and and warming others, as we warm ourselves.

And that’s why the net curtains will come off the front of our house and not the back, and our neighbours will be treated to us frantically trying to keep a curious cat away from the candles. Or better still, they might be invited in.

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