Inspired by Kwanzaa, a festival celebrated by many Black Americans in which each day of the holiday (from December 26 – January 1) is dedicated to a different core principle, my family and I dedicate each of the eight nights of Hanukkah to a different value exemplified by a biblical Jewish woman.
In our home we say: “On this evening, we light a candle for [e.g. justice] exemplified by [e.g. Deborah].”
- Justice: Deborah was a great judge respected for her sage and hopeful counsel. (Judges 4:1-5:31)
- Peace: Serach bat Asher brought peace and comfort to Jacob by telling him gently, through song, that his son Joseph had not been killed, as reported by his brothers. (Midrash Ha-Gadol, Genesis 46:25)
- Sisterhood: It was Rachel, not her father, who ensured that her sister Leah would have the honor of being Jacob’s first spouse. Rachel taught Leah how to imitate her so Jacob had no idea it was Leah under the . In this way, Rachel saw to it that no shame came to Leah. (BT: Bava Batra 123a)
- Loving kindness: Rivka showed exceptional kindness at the well to Isaac’s servant Eliezer and to his camels by drawing enough water to satisfy the thirst of both man and animal. Thus did Eliezer find a kind and loving wife for Isaac. (Genesis 24:16-22)
- Compassion: Miriam had a vision that her mother would give birth to a child destined to become a great leader. She shared this vision with her parents, giving them the courage to have another child despite Pharaoh’s decree to kill all male infants. Miriam’s brother Moses grew up to be that great leader, shepherding our people from bondage to freedom. (Exodus Rabbah 1:22)
- Understanding: Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Moses from the water, then raised him under her father’s nose and let his biological mother nurse him. God renamed her Batya (daughter of God) in recognition of her great understanding of a people who were “supposed to be” her enemies. (Leviticus Rabbah 1:3)
- Joy: Sarah demonstrated great joy after hearing that she was to have a child at the age of 90. Her happiness at this news reminds us to celebrate everything positive that occurs, even – and perhaps especially – the seemingly impossible. (Genesis 18:10-15)
- Love: Lot’s wife, Idit, looked back at her children and brethren while escaping Sodom, an act of selfless love that resulted in her being reduced to a pillar of salt, which represented her tears. (Pirkei de Rebbe Eliezer 25:160 a/b)
During a time of the year when it’s easy to be self-centered, remembering these great women who lived thousands of years ago helps me remain Jewishly centered and in touch with the religious aspect of the holiday of Hanukkah.