Symbolism plays a major role in Judaism. Chanukah is a holiday ripe with symbolism, as many activities such as lighting the Menorah, eating Latkes, and spinning the Dreidel are performed in many households. If one were to ask what a Menorah or Chanukiyah symbolizes, the answer would fill volumes of books. As with many things in life, in order to better understand the true message of the Menorah, we can bring a connection to the basketball court.
Among the candles which are lit each night of Chanukah is the Shamash, whose main purpose is to ignite all the other candles. In some ways, the Shamash can be compared to the point guard in a basketball game: he is the one who directs the other teammates where to go and what to do, and he is the one who is in charge of controlling each play. However, the “Shamash” of the basketball game does not always have to be the point guard, but, in reality, it could be any player in any game that acts like the Shamash. This person assumes more responsibilities than the other players and ignites his teammates by inspiring them to excel.
The Chanukiyah also teaches the concept of Pirsumei Nisa, publicizing the miracles of Chanukah. The Gemara (Shabbat 21b) discusses the location where one should light the Chanukah candles, and although there are many factors which contribute to the determining the location of the Chanukiyah, the overriding concern of the Gemara is that the Menorah should be lit in a place where it will be seen, so that it will publicize the miracles of Chanukah. From the concept of publicizing a miracle, we should learn that miracles of Chanukah are for everybody. Hashem did not save one person on Chanukah, but rather, He saved the entire Jewish people. Therefore, all of us Jews should feel an obligation to celebrate together as a unit.
Another message that can be learned from Chanukah is the importance of hope. This message is not only conveyed in the story of Chanukah, but also in the Parashiyot surrounding the holiday. Parashat VaYeishev and Parashat Mikeitz are read around the time of Chanuka. These Parashiyot focus on all of the trials and challenges that Yosef faced in Egypt. Through all of his the terrible deeds that are done to Yosef, and through all of the terrible events that Yosef was forced to experience, he was always able to connect the events of his life with the hand of God. His hope is what ultimately led to the Jewish redemption from Egypt. To highlight this, Yosef makes the Jewish nation promise him that when the Jews leave Egypt, they will carry his bones away to be buried (BeReishit 50:25). This shows his incredible hope and faith in Hashem. He knew, without a doubt, that the Jewish people would eventually be redeemed from Egypt.
On Chanukah, we celebrate the miracle of a jug of oil lasting for eight days. Perhaps, in addition to celebrating this miracle, we should celebrate the fact that somebody had enough hope and presence of mind to hide a jug of oil to use when we won the war. That unknown Tzaddik had so much hope and faith in Hashem that his vial of oil would be found, and that the Beit HaMikdash would survive, that he merited a holiday of Chanukah, celebrating and commemorating the hope that he was able to maintain, even in the face of death and destruction.
Hope is also necessary for a basketball team. For a team to travel for hours to a game, be down by ten points, and then win with a buzzer beater can happen only if the team has hope that it can come back from its deficit.
The importance of hope can be demonstrated from the following story: One Chanukah, in a concentration camp, a father and a son were together, and they had been given a ration of margarine to use on their bread. The father took the miniscule portion of margarine that was meant for the bread, and he used it to light a Chanukah candle. The son thought that his father was crazy for wasting rare and valuable sustenance, but the father told him that the hope that one is instilled with through the Chanukah candles is more important than all of the food in the world. To quote Hal Lindsey, “Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air… but only for one second without hope.”