The lighting of the first Candle of Hanukkah or watching the World cup final?
Note: this sermon is written by Rabbi Matan Shnaiweiss who is based in Israel. It has been translated from Hebrew to English
(Note, this sermon is only for football fans)
On Sunday evening we light the first candle of Hanukkah. The best time to light the Hanukkah candles is when the first stars come out in the night sky, this year it will be at 4:55PM (in Israel). Since this is also the time for the evening prayer, it is tradition that the candles are lit immediately after prayers. As a rule, even when it is not possible to light the candles when the first stars are shining in the night sky, it is still preferable to do so as early as possible.
This year, at exactly 5:00PM (in Israel) the final of the soccer world cup (the World Cup) also begins.
(If I were a documentary photographer, I would love to record the reality that will happen in observant homes that also love football, it's hard for me to think of a better script...)
A little bird (internal and external) whispered to me that I shouldn’t waste my time addressing this subject since even the best throughout battles can be lost before they start and in any case most people who are passionate about one thing or another won’t listen. Yet, I can't ignore it.
The story of Hanukkah, that is celebrated through the lighting of the candles, is a story of standing proud as a Jew in front of the rest of the world when it "culturally collided" with the Jewish world. Of course, in the case of the World Cup, this is a different type of collision - the Greeks fought with the intention of "Causing the Jews to forget the laws of God". In this case it is not a collision of culture between two parties, but a "technical coincidence" of two events falling at exactly the same time. Nevertheless, there are two things competing for the same time slot. A clash between different values in our lives can be a challenging experience. Figuring out how to balance these different values - that are both important to us - can help us understand ourselves on a much deeper level and strengthen our connection with the things that we value the most in our lives.
First we will describe here the two cultures:
Hanukkah we celebrate a war of values. The Hanukkah celebration is not a standard celebration, it is the celebration of the victory of the people of Israel over foreign forces that tried to erase their identity. These forces threatened that those who would preserve their Jewish identity would be killed and for this reason the Maccabees went to war - to preserve the uniqueness, holiness and spirituality of the Jewish people.
The World Cup is a spectacular sporting event. Probably the biggest in the world. Overall it is a very positive event. Local nations are sending their best to play football with great talent and exceptional sporting abilities. Iran and the USA for a moment put aside their existential struggle and play together. In team sports you can find so many good things - physical fitness, commitment to the team, national pride, and much more - the potential for positive outcomes from this event is enormous
There is no conflict here between the celebration of Hanukkah and the World Cup finale, they both embody many of the fundamental values that we live by as human beings and specifically as Jewish people. These two events could easily live together, not in any conflict, were it not that they both fall at exactly the same time. (Even though there are families that for one reason or another light the candles at a later time - and not specifically because of the World Cup - it is possible to light the candles from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM - in Israel).
In my opinion there is an opportunity provided to us here to prioritize our preferences. My practical advice is to light the Hanukkah candles on time “at the expense" of a small part of the game (5-15 minutes). In this way we can celebrate what is enduring vs what is fun, exciting, positive but also very temporary.
With all the positivity that this football event provides we must remember that the Haukkah candles represent enduring values - values of family and nation, of holiness and Torah, of the observance of mitzvot and building a world of kindness. People who stand by these values also find much happiness in many other things.
If you decide not to take my advice this time, that’s OK as well. We will be lighting the Hanukkah candles many years after the name “Lionel Messi” is no longer known to the world. The values promoted by the festival of Hanukkah are timeless and have endured over 2,000 years and will continue to endure in the future. These are values that are relevant on both a personal and national level.
Rabbi Matan Shnaiweiss.