I had a lot of fun running. This was my third time participating in this annual Thanksgiving tradition. It was my first time, though, running with a Chanukah menorah hat on my head. Over the past two years, I had seen plenty of people running the race with turkey hats and other Thanksgiving-themed costumes. I thought, this year, it is Chanukah's turn.
The hat got a lot of comments. I heard plenty of "Happy Chanukah!" "Great hat!" and "Where'd you get that?" (The true and ironic answer to that question is here.)
It would be a stretch to say that running through the streets of a New England town with a funny hat on my head is a holy act. I will say though, that it felt like I was doing a small part to fulfill the central mitzvah of Chanukah. From a traditional perspective, the reason for lighting a Chanukah menorah is pirsum ha-nes, to "make known the miracle" (B. Shabbat 21a-24a). This is why a lit Chanukah menorah ideally should be placed in a window where it can be seen by the public. For each person who smiled at my silly hat, I felt that I was helping to remind people of Chanukah, a minor holiday that celebrates God's power to change a defeat into a victory, darkness into light, and despair into hope.
Why was publicizing the miracle of Chanukah so important to the ancient rabbis? In large measure, it was because they recognized that they were living at a time when Judaism was in fierce competition with other beliefs and philosophies. In ancient Babylon and the ancient land of Israel, Jews were in competition with Christians who taught that the holiness of the Temple had been broken and replaced. Gnosticism rejected the idea of a single creator God who is the only deity. The rabbis used the public display of lit menorahs at the darkest time of year as a powerful form of advertising for the unique God who brought a miracle to affirm the Temple's holiness and who ruled the universe alone.
We also are living in a time of competition for the hearts and minds of today's Jews, although the terms of the competition have changed. For Jews who believe that religion is nothing more than a grandiose superstition, or who believe that the synagogue is a place of stuffy and meaningless rituals, we have a lot of public relations work to do. "Making known the miracle" today may mean presenting an image of Judaism that is meaningful, spiritual, fun and joyful. We need to publicize a Judaism that helps people grapple with the most difficult challenges of their lives and that helps them discover their own greatest happiness and fulfillment in life.
Does wearing a silly hat help in that publicity campaign? Maybe a little. In any case, it is a gentle reminder that there are plenty of folks in the world today who are proud to be Jews, who think that Judaism is far from a stuffy and meaningless aspect of their identity. It is a way of making known that being Jewish, and loving Judaism, feels great.
Other Posts on This Topic:
The Last Miracle
How Does a Joyful Jew Respond to "Merry Christmas"?