This week's parashah includes the dramatic encounter between Yaakov and a mysterious "man" in the middle of the night. The two engage in a nocturnal wrestling batch, battling until Yaakov suffers a blow to his hip and his adversary informs him that henceforth he is to be known as Yisrael, one who has contended with God and humans and prevailed. From that moment, Yaakov learns that his will be a legacy of struggle-and triumph, a heritage of wrestling with God to understand our role and mission in the world and a heritage of wrestling for the ascendancy of our beliefs over civilizations that worship power, wealth, and evil. Our Patriarch Yisrael and the nation that bears his name would be destined to confront periods of struggle, times in which fear and darkness would reign; their role would be to fight until dawn, until they could banish the darkness with light and spread that light to bring goodness to the world. The upcoming holiday of Chanukah is but one example of this inheritance that the name Yisrael symbolizes. Surrounded by a culture that worshiped lucre, materialism, and a pantheon of gods, a small band of Jews rose up and stood for Hashem and spiritual wealth and splendor. And they triumphed. The light that the Maccabees kindled illuminated a pervasive darkness and led reaffirmed Jewish commitment to our religious practice and spiritual dedication.
Earlier this week at the annual White House Chanukah party, President Obama spoke of the meaning of the holiday today. In his short speech he reminded that throughout the Jewish world, we proudly display our Chanukiyot on our windowsills because, "Each wick [is] an answer to the wicked." Each flame represents our fight against darkness and our desire to spread light to the nations. A particularly dark time has descended on a country we often see as adversaries. The Syrian government has retaken Aleppo and has brutally murdered Syrian citizens who have been caught in the crosshairs. This week the Rabbinical Council of America prompted us that as Jews, part of the light we spread is through prayer and that it behooves us to keep the innocents in Aleppo in our tefillot. As you light your Chanukah candles next week, remember that with that seemingly small flame of a mitzvah, you are helping to dispel darkness, even in the farthest recesses of the world.