By Rabbi Lisa Delson
Chanukah, the holiday of rededication and renewal, can sometimes seem like a parade of blue and white, gelt, latkes, parties, and a heavy dose of guilt (because of all of the oil and chocolate). This holiday demands that we recognize the miracles in our lives and also challenges us to see where assimilation gets the better of us. For women who are rabbis the Chanukah candles burn brightly but often at both ends.
As Jewish professionals, we want to be deep thinkers on issues of Jewish import and make an impact on the community we serve. We want to work for equality of all people and also desire for ourselves to be seen as equals. We strive to be excellent teachers by explaining difficult aspects of Judaism in an understandable way. We thrive on Torah Lishma, learning for its own sake. We counsel people in times of grief and pain while also embracing them in times of joy. These are the job requirements, these things are what fills our days.
Yet, on top of all of those sacred tasks we are also challenged with the assimilation of ideas that in order to be heard we must be beautiful. Not in the everyone-holds-beauty kind of beautiful but beautiful by the standards set by society. Not only do we have to be smart but we also have to look smart or we are not taken seriously. A few pounds gained here or there causes a few minutes of chatter by the people we serve day in and day out. One morning you forget to don the ever-present make-up and someone asks if you are coming down with a cold. We have to be effortlessly gracious and charming in addition to being intellectually challenging.
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
Edna St. Vincent Millay speaks so much truth in her 1920 poem called, “The First Fig.” Our candles do burn at both ends and eventually they will be extinguished but all the while they give off a radiant light. As rabbis, working hard and attempting to look good are the reality of the times in which we live. This is not inherently a bad thing, in fact I enjoy wearing make-up and wearing nice clothes. It only becomes a problem if on the days that we do not prioritize looking our best we are still known to be quality teachers of Torah that we are.
On this Chanukah let us see our inner light shining brightly. And may this holiday give us hope and strength to extinguish the societal pressures of physical beauty over intellectual beauty.
Rabbi Lisa Delson serves as Assistant Rabbi and Program Director at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, Michigan.