This year, I have the immense privilege of serving as the Jewish educator at American University Hillel. Every week I sit down with a group of students and a table of snacks (when Jason Benkendorf is feeling benevolent), and we wrestle through a selection of texts together. Our conversations are never dull and often heated. If I had a dollar for every time politics come up in conversation, well, let’s just say that I might be on a tropical vacation rather than writing this D’var.
I shouldn’t be surprised. We are, after all, in the nation’s capital. Students who choose D.C. for their college experience are often driven by dreams of a career walking the marble floors of Congress, pacing the lobbying firms of K Street, or changing the world with non-profit and advocacy organizations. These students are always networking, making connections, and thinking about ways to get themselves known. To be successful in Washington you have to get yourself out there. But as my students know well, in this age of social media we also have to be hyper vigilant about what we put out there into the world. A photo, tweet, or blog post can so easily come back to haunt us. Just ask Elizabeth Lauten, the Republican Congressional Aide who resigned following the backlash to her dismissive posts about Sasha and Malia Obama. What we put out into the world matters. It defines for others who we are and the values that we stand for.
Every Chanukah we commit to putting put 8 days of light out into the world. There’s something very interesting about how the Rabbis of the Talmud tell us to place the Menorah that we light. In Tractate Shabbat 21b, we read, “The mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles is to place them on the entrance to one’s house, on the outside.” In other words - put your Menorah outside your front door! Which is a bizarre instruction, when you think about it. What good will it do for us there? We’ll barely see it. What light will it bring into our lives? And won’t it just blow out in the wind, anyhow?
But maybe what we learn here is that when we have something good to put out into the world, something that is about more than just ourselves, we are supposed to boast about it. To put it right out there into the world outside our front door. A great miracle happened! When everything seemed lost, there was hope! A little jar of oil burned for 8 days! And I want you all to know about it! If we light the Chanukah candles to spread hope and light, then it makes sense that we should put them where other people can see them. And by putting our Menorot outside, we proudly declare ourselves to be part of a community of people who experienced a great miracle. To be a part of a people who value and believe in hope. Chanukah comes in the dead of winter to give us the opportunity kindle a tiny spark of light in each of us, and to spread that light to each other. So this Chanukah, I’ll be telling my students at A.U to be proud of our community and our belief in the miracle of hope, and put their Menorot outside their front door.
Or at least in the window. It’s pretty windy in D.C., after all.
Dr. Laura Tomes is the Director of Educational Research and Innovation at Hillel International.