Today, we celebrated The Toronto Heschel School’s Chanukkah Festival of the Arts.
Chanukkah means “re-dedication”—After years of tirelessly battling the armies of Melekh Antiochus, the Maccabees re-dedicated the Temple to God. When they re-entered the Temple—Beit Hamikdash—they found it in shambles. There was barely enough oil to light the Temple Menorah for even one night. Yet, the oil lasted for eight nights. This was a נס—a “sign”—that a small amount can go a long way: a small amount of precious oil, a small number of Maccabees, a small number of dedicated individuals can reignite hope, beauty, and awe.
For the past two years, we have all had to be Maccabees—parents, faculty, school leaders, even our children—battling not the forces of a tyrannical king, but the forces of nature, COVID, and all that this has meant for us. It has been a period that has taken a toll on many; many are weary, our emotions are raw, we do not always feel that we have a lot of oil left in the proverbial menorah of our souls.
There is no manual for being a school leader during a pandemic, just as there was no manual for being a parent or a teacher in such a time. Like all of you, I kept many candles burning: trying to be a present father, an attentive spouse, and a good friend, while always prioritizing the school and all of our children’s wellbeing and education.
To be a Maccabee in ancient times meant to take up the sword and shield. To be a Maccabee in the present moment is more a matter of inner strength and courage, and it involves other warrior qualities: flexibility, humility, self-discipline, and empathy. We do not always get it right—and over the past two years, sometimes it has been hard to know what “getting it right” even means.
Looking back, we can see that we won some victories and, in other ways, we came up short. Our successes sometimes came with a cost—some wounds, which will take time to heal. We have come to realize that the key to being a Maccabee is not always succeeding or being victorious. The key is to remain dedicated, through difficult and joyous times. To re-dedicate ourselves over and over again to the beautiful, awesome, holy task of raising and teaching our children in the Jewish methods and traditions to which our ancestors dedicated themselves.
Chanukkah means “re-dedication.” It is related to the word “Chinukh,” meaning education. This year, my Chanukkah wish is that we may all light up our souls with a re-dedication to education and celebration, for our children, our families, and ourselves.