Hanukkah is the most well known of all the Jewish holidays. It tells the tale of the military victory of Judah and the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greeks back in 165 BCE. It reminds of God’s “divine providence” through the miracle of the single pot of oil burning in the menorah for eight days. It inspires through the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. It also includes eating foods made in oil (like potato pancakes called latkes and a type of donut – like a large jelly-filled munchkin – called sufganyot); exchanging gifts; playing games; and celebrating the survival of the Jewish people (“They tried to kill us…we survived…let’s eat.”)
On Saturday night most Jewish families will light the first candle of Hanukkah. A special “lamp” called a menorah – or a hanukkiah – is used to perform this annual ritual. The menorah has eight branches for the main candles and an extra one – called the shamash. The custom is (using the shamash) to light one candle on the first night; two on the second; three on the third; and so on until all eight are lit on the eighth night.
Amidst the entire hubbub of the festival, however, no one ever pays notice to or thinks about the shamash…This “helper” candle takes the lead. It sets the stage. It shows the way. It causes the others to be lit. It stands slightly, proudly, and quietly above the rest.
The shamash reminds me of my brother, Craig.
As we approach the first day of Hanukkah, my brother is being honored for eighteen years of service as the Orangetown Jewish Center’s senior rabbi. The synagogue’s website states that, “as one of the area’s most prominent young rabbis, Rabbi Scheff is revered for his energetic, enlightening and inspirational approach to Jewish life, worship, learning and philanthropy.” His bio goes on and on about his non-traditional journey to the pulpit, the way he simultaneously embraces Jewish values and his congregation, and the events and activities that have exerted tremendous influence on his daily life. But, nowhere in the effusive (and mildly nauseating) narrative is my brother’s true “essence” captured.
So, given this auspicious occasion, it’s up to me to shed some light.
Craig shines like the sun and warms those in his presence. He twinkles brightly like the stars and enables others to sparkle too. He glows like the full moon and sheds light on those in darkness. He is like a flame and draws others to him. He serves as a torch and leads the way. He operates like a beacon and calls attention to a specific time or place. He is like the lantern that illuminates the path. He is like a fire that has the power to transform. He rises quickly like a flare to rescue those in need. He acts as a lighthouse and helps others navigate their way. He is like the burning bush that is not consumed by its own flames. For me, he is THE guiding light — on this Festival of Lights and always.
I hope and pray that each one of you finds someone — like my brother — who brightens your day and brings meaning to your life. Happy Hanukkah and a joyous holiday season to you and yours.
Mazel tov and thank you, Craig. I love you.