On Wednesday of this past week, our Middle School Girls led a program called Light of Torah, in which each student presented their research on a righteous life of a figure in Tanach. Each of the students spoke either by video or in person. Dozens of parents, grandparents and friends came to learn from our students. Thank you to Morah Anat Kampf, Morah Tzippy Hollander and Morah Sara Wende for their work in leading this program.
To open the program, I connected the students’ work with the upcoming holiday of Chanukah.
Each Jewish holiday prompts us to reflect on themes and values that are central to our religion. One of the central themes of Chanukah is the primacy of protecting and defending our values and our Jewish way of life. The Maccabees’ bravery in the face of the Syrian enemy, the re-establishment of the Jewish monarchy and the removal of anti-Jewish laws are examples of themes which highlight national victories. In examining these themes more carefully, they represent parochial victories – successes garnered exclusively by the Jewish people. They are exceedingly important themes – but, in truth, they are nationalistic and particularistic themes.
There is another type of theme explored in Chanukah – one conveyed by the location of the placement of the Chanukah lights. In the exile, we usually place our chanukiyah inside of the house. There are many good reasons for this practice. However, the halacha, as it was originally codified, is to place the chanukiyah outside of the house, near the adjacent courtyard. The purpose of this public placement is to project the message of the Chanukah lights to the world around us. Chanukah teaches us that we have a responsibility to project the values and ideals that we have learned to those with whom we come into contact. Unlike the themes explored above, this theme is a universalistic theme – a theme that helps us consider our role in the world.
In delivering the Torah that they had learned to the community this week, our Middle School Girls developed themselves and grew through their study and through their research. However, what made this program exceedingly special was that they shared their Torah with us and through their efforts we all became enriched. Like placing the chanukiya in the public sphere, our students projected their values and Torah to all of us.