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A Moment of Purity in San Bernardino

December 9, 2015 | by Rabbi Chaim Levine

Hanukkah and the power of “I got you.”

People are beginning to lose their faith in the goodness of others. Paris, San Bernardino, ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and the daily terror attacks in Israel reveal a dark side of the human soul. Once again, we are appalled by humanity's capacity for perversity and evil.

Enter Hanukkah.

Hanukkah took place 2,200 years ago under different circumstances, but there are striking similarities. The Syrian Hellenists were more than willing torture and/or slaughter those who didn't bow down to their idols.

The Talmud says Hanukkah is not the celebration of the military liberation from the Hellenists. Rather, we are celebrating a small miracle which might be easily overlooked. We are celebrating the purity of a flask of oil and the amazing properties that came as a result of its purity.

Last week in San Bernadino, in the midst of all the terror and murder, something pure happened that it speaks not only to the meaning of Hanukkah but to the core of the human spirit itself.

Ms. Denise Peraza was sitting next to Mr. Shannon Johnson last Wednesday, joking about how the clock on the wall at work must be broken, as time was moving so slowly. Five minutes later, they were diving underneath a desk, trying to hide from the hail of bullets being sprayed at them by Jihadi terrorists. Shannon Johnson put a chair in front of him and then he hid Denise behind him.

"I will always remember his left arm wrapped around me, holding me as close as possible next to him, behind that chair," Denise recalls. "And amidst all the chaos, I'll always remember him saying these three words, 'I got you.' "

Shannon Johnson sacrificed his life to shield and protect his friend Denise.

"I got you."

The purity and selflessness behind those words will forever shine brilliantly.

"I got you." It was the resolve of those words that the first responders took with them on September 11th, 2001, as they raced into the buildings to save anonymous office workers desperately trying to get out. It is the feeling of those three words that our U.S. and IDF soldiers bring with them as they risk their lives again and again to protect American and Israeli citizens.

There is one candle on the menorah that stands above the rest for a reason. It is there to serve. In Hebrew it is called the "Shamash" or "servant." For the rest of my life, I will know it as the I-Got-You Candle. It exists to give of itself in order to keep the other lights lit, and reminds us of the unbelievable purity and goodness within the human spirit.

Shannon Johnson lived his life as a Shamash. He is the I-Got-You Candle. As we light our menorahs this week, let us speak of Shannon. Let us remember the myriad "I Got Yous" of those who have protected us over the generations, and let us kindle the I-Got-You Shamash which resides within all of us.

Let’s bring all of our I-Got-You candles together and vanquish the darkness.

Hanukkah Sameach

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