On Chanukah we celebrate the triumph of religious liberty: the freedom to openly, joyfully observe the rituals of our own choosing, free from fear and persecution. In the Hellenic society of the Maccabees’ time, conformity of religion forced out religious diversity, driving Jewish families to learn Torah in secret, pulling out games of dreidel when the authorities came to call. Perhaps as a celebration of the freedom to practice Judaism openly, the mitzvot of Chanukah receive an additional crown: the call to beautify the mitzvah.
Hiddur Mitzvah is going beyond the letter of the law to glorify God and enhance the joy of the ritual. On Chanukah, a gorgeous menorah or colorful handmade candles bring beauty to a mitzvah that could have been fulfilled in a more basic way.
The sages teach “That which emanates from the heart, enters the heart.” By putting “heart” into a mitzvah — carefully selecting a menorah, lighting it in the heart of our home with peace and joy — the beauty of the holiday will enter the heart of everyone who sees it. It sends the message that this is something that is important to us, that we honor and anticipate with excitement. An extra polish of the menorah communicates that these rituals are precious, that we give them the very best of what we have.
Chanukah is an important moment to re-declare our priorities and our deeply-held values. It is a time to staunchly maintain the beauty of our traditions, to communicate to our children and families that this is what matters most, and that we show up here with our very best.
We are privileged to live in a society where our Chanukah candles can burn proudly on our windowsills, where mezuzahs can freely frame our doors with the promise of dignity and divine protection. At these moments when we celebrate our own liberty with crispy latkes and shining light, we can also remind ourselves that it is our calling to share this light with those who need it most. Perhaps Chanukah is a time to reflect on Tikkun Olam, the call to repair the world, and to find more ways in which we can defend the freedom and liberty of those who still yearn for it. It can be a time to defend religious freedom, to give of our own hearts to those whose hearts are hurting. It can be the perfect moment to share our own light and joy with the world.
Here at Kolbo, our hearts are full of best wishes to each of you this Chanukah. May it be a season of light and hope, both for our community and the world around us.