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Thought for the Day – Chanukah 2022

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The Power of Words – Chanukah and the importance of sharing good news

Can you imagine there being not a single signpost in the UK to London?

That was effectively the case in ancient Israel where there were signposts at every intersection guiding those who needed protection to the nearest city of refuge, but there were no signposts to Jerusalem.

And the reason? It was to encourage travellers to ask for directions. Conversations would then ensue. Details would be shared about the exciting purpose of the pilgrimage – perhaps the reasons for which a thanksgiving offering was to be offered in the temple or other good news stories. Isn’t it fascinating that more than 2 Millenia ago, our tradition sought to encourage the sharing of good news wherever possible? Because so often bad news stories capture peoples’ imaginations far more readily. It seems that not much has changed.

Recognising that there are toxic, destructive interactions between people, which bring out the worst in us, and there are positive, constructive interactions which can bring out the best, neuroscientists have shown how even a single word has the power to change a person’s brain activity. In their book entitled, ‘Words can Change your Brain,’ Dr Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman explained that holding a positive or optimisticv word in ones mind stimulates the frontal lobe of the brain prompting us to take action.

this weekend marks the beginning of the eight day festival of Chanukah, when we banish darkness from our midst as we increase the number of candles which are lit each night to maximise the impact. Candles are frequently used in jewish practise but usually in private at home or in the synagogue. Chanukah is different. On Chanukah we kindle our lights in a place where we know they will be noticed by others. The lights are a reminder of the miraculous survival of the Jewish people 2300 years ago when the Greeks sought to extinguish the flame of Jewish practise. The kindling of the Chanukah lights is accompanied by the recitation of blessings and teachings through which we share this extraordinary story of bravery, resilience, hope and joy. By sharing this story publicly, we seek to encourage the sharing of positivity in a world filled with much darkness.

The Book of Genesis describes how, prior to Creation, all that existed was darkness on the face of the waters. God then dramatically uttered his first ever statement, “Let there be light,” and there was light. From here we learn that more than anything it is words that drive out darkness and bring light and positivity in to the world.