My dear Oscar,
In these days Jewish folks around the world are celebrating Chanukkah (or as it is also known by the majority of people the “Festival of Lights”): each year for eight days between late November and the month of December, families gather to dine together, exchange little gifts and of course to light the candles placed on specific nine-branched candleholders (or menorrahs). The Festival takes origin from an episode told in the First and Second Book of Maccabees (although Jews preferably refer to other sources such as the Talmud), when the Jewish people, who had just been set free from the Seleucid domination, returned to their land and reconsecrated the Temple in Jerusalem that, in the meanwhile, had been partially devastated and used for pagan rituals. The Law required that candelabra should be lit permanently, but everything the Jews could find at their return to Jerusalem was a single flask containing a small amount of oil sufficient to light up the lamps just for one day. Miraculously the little oil contained in the flask lasted enough to light up the lamps in the Temple for eight days and left them time to find a new supply.
As many other biblical and holy texts, the episode giving origin to Chanukkah teaches us many things: first of all it gives us an amazing example of the value and importance of hope. Clearly, the Jews who lit the lamps using the little oil they had found in their half-destroyed temple couldn’t know (nor even imagine) about the miracle that was about to happen; but they hoped wholeheartedly that God would have never abandoned them and would have provided His people with all the means necessary to fulfill the law.
Hope is undoubtedly a key-concept within Judaism; nonetheless, it’s a central notion in Christian ethics too, to the point that, along with Faith and Compassion, Hope is the first of the three theological virtues and often intended as a presupposition of Faith, which in turn has to express itself through good deeds and compassion or love to others (as it is in the original concept of the word “charitas”, deriving from the Greek “charis” which means, among other things, God’s grace: when we are touched by God’s Love, we get “graced” and enabled to spread this love around us towards other people). On the opposite side, as Dante reminds us in his Divine Comedy the door to Hell carries the inscription “Abandon all hope you who enter there” (Inferno, canto III, line 9), to suggest that, where there is no divine Love or Grace, also Hope can’t be found; yet, the very same door is depicted broken after Christ’s descent to the infernal underworld to signify that Love and Hope prevail over the most absolute darkness. God’s Love rules everywhere even in the depth of Hell, bringing compassion and hope in the spiritual desolation.
The second important teaching the episode of Chanukkah gives us is about Law: God always give us what we require to abide by His Law. Still in the transition from Hebraism to Christianity the concept of law gets radically reshaped to the point that it’s often said that Christ came to have the law (to wit the whole complex of Jewish mitzvot) replaced by love. But the Law is not nullified in Christianity: when Jesus Christ was asked which commandment (mitzvah) was the most important of all, he answered: “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Matthew 22, 34-40).
To paraphrase the Scriptures this means that according to Jesus to comply with God’s Law only two things are required: to love God above everything else and with all our energies and to love our neighbour. Nevertheless, if we carefully look at the Gospel verses, Jesus doesn’t simply say to love our neighbours, but to love them as much as we love ourselves; in other words, self-love is not necessarily the opposite of selflessness and compassion, but their precondition. Only if we love ourselves, we are able to spread this love outside and to be compassionate and caring towards other people.
Thus, dear boy, not unlike those Jews that lit the lamps in the Temple with the little oil they had found and with a great dose of hope and trust in their Lord, use every inspiring word, every tiny gesture of love and everything that makes you smile to kindle the hope in your heart and keep it lit. And every time you feel that loving yourself is too hard, remember that God loves you endlessly and He is always ready and willing to give you His love to allow you to love yourself by reflex and be able to love other people too.