“It is a commandment to place the Hanukkah light outside by the entrance to one’s house.”
BT Shabbat 21b
We are entering the last days of Hanukah and filling our homes with sanctified light. In Israel today many menorot are lit on outside house walls in glass boxes fulfilling the legal requirement mentioned above in the Talmud. We traditionally light the menorah outside, but today we light it inside. Why the change?
Hanukah is a holiday that has internal and external dimensions. Internally, we are supposed to reflect on ancient and current miracles; we add special prayers tucked into our regular prayers for gratitude that we have survived in impossible ways and add a whole section of prayer called Hallel to every morning service as hymns of appreciation and praise.
But Hanukah has an external dimension as well. We are supposed to publicize miracles and not keep them to ourselves by lighting in places that will attract the attention of the street, both in terms of time and space. According to the Talmud, the menorah has to be lit as people are leaving the marketplace and can be lit until the last stragglers leave the market stalls. It was to be lit outside one’s house to maximize viewing. The text above continues: “If one dwells on an upper floor, one places it by the window that faces out to the public.” The menorah was the billboard of ancient times, letting fellow Jews and neighbors remember that our present is because of our past.
Yet in darker days, publicizing miracles was also a way of publicizing the fact that you were Jewish. Sadly, the problem of anti-Semitism is almost as old as Hanukah itself. The Talmud continues: “In a time of danger, one places it on the table, and that is enough.” If you cannot publicize the miracle to the world outside your home, make sure that your home is filled with light and publicize the miracle to your family.
Today we light inside as a leftover to sadder days; this residual practice should be overturned in times of Jewish security, as it has all over Israel. We should not be afraid to state who we are proudly and publically and feel protected enough in our ethnic and religious identity to share it with the world – a simple candelabrum signals not only miracles but our state of freedom.
In this spirit, it is time to give the Gross family a Hanukah present and finally bring Alan Gross home from Cuba to his freedom. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated that Alan is being held illegally and in violation of international law. The United States Senate unanimously adopted S. Res. 609 calling for Alan's immediate and unconditional release. Now it is time to do our work. One week out of the 25th anniversary of the March for Soviet Jewry on the National Mall, we cannot now stay silent. We didn’t then. We cannot now. If we can get one million Jews out of Russia, we can get one Jewish man from the United States out of Cuba.
Alan’s wife Judy sent a heartfelt letter this week calling for support because there has been recent media attention and genuine progress on the case in the past few weeks. In Judy’s words, “I really need some additional support. I have launched a petition on Change.org which urges the Government of Cuba to release Alan and also calls on both the Cuban and U.S. governments to sit down and get my husband's case resolved.” You can find recent developments at www.bringalanhome.org. Please take a minute to click and sign the petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/cuba-and-the-united-states-free-american-citizen-alan-gross.
In December 2009, Alan was arrested. In December 2012, let’s get him out of jail. This Hanukah, be the light for Alan Gross.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukah