Hanukkah Is a Celebration of Conservation
This post is part of Important Media’s More Love, Less Stuff holiday event. We’re sharing ideas to redefine holiday traditions to be less about stuff and more about gratitude, compassion, and love.
The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah began last Tuesday and goes until December 24. It’s a time of spinning dreidels, latkes topped with sour cream and apple sauce, and, of course, lighting the menorah. But it’s also a time of remembering the miracle that was witnessed when the Maccabees were forced to conserve their resources.
Story of Hanukkah
The story behind Hanukkah is a story of Jewish victory over idolaters and occupiers of the Holy Land. The Syrians, which ruled Israel at the time, were intolerant of Judaism and forced the ancient Jews to worship pagan gods or face death. A small legion of Jewish fighters formed, the Maccabees, to defeat the Syrians and defend the Torah. They were successful, even against the larger Syrian armies.
Eventually the Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to liberate it. They cleared the Temple of Syrian idols and built a new alter. Because the war had forced them to miss honoring the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, they built a cheap metal menorah and used the only remaining oil they had to light it. The oil was only supposed to last for one day, even though Sukkot lasts for eight days, but by miracle, the precious oil lasted for the full eight days.
The miracle proved that God was protecting the Jews.
What Can the Story of Hanukkah Teach Us About Conservation?
Hanukkah isn’t just a celebration of liberation and victory, it’s also a celebration of conservation. With God’s help, the Maccabees were able to make their few resources last for over a week. Not only is that an amazing miracle, it’s also an incredibly relevant lesson for the challenges facing our use of energy today.
Jewish organizations are beginning to emphasize this lesson more. The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) asked its members in 2003 to consider ecological concerns of the holiday.
“We had a light-builb campaign to get folks to change their bulbs to CFLs (compact fluorescent light,” Jared Feldman, COEJL’s vice president and Washington, DC director, told JNS.org. “We came up with the idea of Hanukkah as both a holiday of liberation, but also a holiday of resource scarcity. We built off the idea of the limited amount of oil for eight days and how conservation plays in.”
David Krantz, the president and chairperson of Aytzim, which runs Shomrei Breishit, also sees Hanukkah as the original holiday of energy conservation.
“Think about it. One day’s worth of oil lasted for eight days. Imagine if we conserved energy like we did during the first Hanukkah and only used one eighth as much energy as we do today,” Krantz told JNS.org. “Like Passover, Hanukkah reminds us to rise up, to challenge the status quo. Today, we need to fight for what our ancestors took for granted: clean air, clean water, and clean land. We need freedom from fossil fuels. Learning about the environmental lessons of Hanukkah can help light the way.”
Practice the Miracle
Today, in the United States, Hanukkah is often recognized with dazzling menorah light displays and giving gifts for eight days. And while it’s definitely fun to celebrate in this way, perhaps the focus on using resources instead of conserving resources misses the point.
The miracle of God was witnessed when the Maccabees had just a little — the light that lit up the darkness in the war torn Temple. Maybe it’s easier to witness miracles when things are just a bit simpler.
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