Shabbat Vayeshev – Bringing light

Until 11.30 yesterday morning, we were looking forward to being joined by one of our amazing young adults, David Mendoza Woolfson, who at 29 has become a vice-President of the board of deputies and this week met various world dignitaries and MP’s. Sadly for them, and for us, he tested positive for Covid yesterday morning, and so can’t be here to share his words of Torah and tell us a bit more about the amazing work he is doing with the Board. We wish David and Melissa well and hope he continues to be symptom free!

So I’m afraid you are stuck with a little bit more of me this Shabbat.

It is hard to believe at the end of November, but tomorrow is the first night of Chanukah. This means we have reached the darkest point of the year when considering the lunar calendar along with the solar. We will spend the week bringing as much light into the world as possible, publicly lighting Chanukiyot, giving gifts, and enjoying delicious oily foods (which perhaps makes me the opposite of light!!)

We do all of this to celebrate two miracles; the first (recorded in the book of Maccabees, written not long after the events of Chanukah, in the 2nd Century BCE) is the miracle of a tiny guerrilla army of Maccabees recapturing the desecrated Temple from the might of the Greek empire, and rededicating it to holy worship. The second miracle, and perhaps more well-known one, isn’t actually recorded until several hundred years later in the Talmud. That is, of course, the miracle of the oil. The Maccabees found enough oil to relight the Menorah for 1 day, and yet it lasted 8 days.

It strikes me that this is an incredible message for us in the 21st Century. With the ending of COP 26 (in Anton’s ancestral home of Glasgow) there was a mixture of celebration that fossil fuels were finally being mentioned in the treaties (up until now they have not been) and disappointment that the commitment to reduce their use was massively watered down at the last minute. Chanukah is an important reminder to us all, that there is a pressing need for us to find ways to make our energy go further.

The good news at the end of COP 26 was that at least 23 countries committed to phasing out the use of coal, and many financial institutions effectively agreed to end all international public financing of new unabated coal power by the end of 2021. The bad news was that the strength of the agreement was watered down, largely by India and China, leaving Alok Sharma, the minister who oversaw the conference, close to tears as he announced the deal. But I’m not sure we can entirely blame India and China. The global South understandably is asking for nations like our own to understand the need for compensation. We have fuelled our own industrial revolutions on fossil fuels, we need to collaborate globally so that not only do Islands in the South Pacific sink beneath rising oceans, but we do not consign large swathes of the world to enduring poverty, while we comfortably continue enjoying our electric cars and work to reduce our carbon footprints.

There is a tradition, not followed by every Chanukiah, that the candles of the candelabra should all be on the same level. No day or candle is more important than any other, they all have an equal role to play. This message is perhaps reinforced by the Parashah this week, where we hear of how Joseph’s special treatment, gorgeous coat, and boasting about his dreams of ruling over his brothers, inevitably led to discord. Of course it didn’t need to lead to such violence, but we know that climate change and global inequality is already leading to violence and loss of life. The awful tragedy of the 27 people who drowned in the English Channel this week is likely to become a greater and greater problem as people flee the discord driven by resource shortages and lands that become uninhabitable.

One of my favourite midrashim tells us that when God created the world, God and Adam went on a walk around the Garden of Eden, with God showing Adam all the trees and wildlife, and explaining to the human; I made all of this for you, look after it, no one will come and fix it all if you destroy it[1].    This Midrash is almost fifteen hundred years old. Judaism has understood for a very long time that this planet is our responsibility. We cannot rely on an interventionist God to swoop in and clean up our mess.

So this Chanukah, as we remember the rededication of the Temple, and try to bring more light into the world, we may also use Chanukah to consider how we approach our precious resources with deeper global equality, and with respect and care for both the incredible gift that creation is, and for the humanity that stands to lose so much. What could bring more light into the world than ensuring that generations to come might also continue to have a world that is habitable, so that they too might light Chanukah lights.

Shabbat Shalom, and Chanukah Sameach for tomorrow!

[1] Kohellet Rabbah 7:13