In my senior year of high school I saw an advertisement for a Junior Miss Pageant. The reward for winning was a $10,000 college scholarship, and when I saw that grades were a factor in selecting the contestants I thought to myself: "Why not give it a try?"

Really, it was a little bit far-fetched, a 5'1" girl winning a pageant, but I decided to give it a shot. I spent an entire Sunday competing. I danced before the judges, gave a speech, handed them my report card, and did a lot of smiling. And then we waited for the results. To the utter shock of my parents and myself, I won the regional contest.

I couldn't help feeling estranged The next stage was the state competition. I was off for three days to a small town in California. I really felt out of place. I had always stuck out in one way or another. I was used to being different and certainly used to being a distinct, brunette Jew in my small school full of blond-haired, blue-eyed Protestants. But this time I couldn't help feeling estranged as I noticed that I was the only Jew. And I wasn't the only one to notice. All the contestants noticed, too. I had never felt so isolated or scrutinized as I did when everyone held hands in prayer circles and started to talk about a belief that was completely foreign to me. "You're one of those swindling Hebrews?" I was asked as I declined to join them.

What had I gotten myself into? I kept to myself, and ignored their comments.

Then came the moment of truth. The auditorium was full of people. As I stood on the stage looking out into the audience, the judges asked me: "Where is your favorite place, and why?"

Should I give them an answer that they want to hear, one that won't separate me from the group and will increase my chances of winning, or do I tell them what is really in my heart? I thought back to the trip that I had taken two years before, to the land that I had vowed that I would return to and to the place that I now call home.

Mi Hash-m Alai (Whoever is for G‑d come to me) a voice within my soul cried out. I opened my mouth and with the biggest smile I could muster I said with confidence, "Israel" as I began to explain my love of the Holy Land and my ancestral heritage.

Needless to say, I lost the pageant.

Over three thousand years ago the Nation of Israel left Egypt. Before they entered Israel they were faced with tests, one of which was patience. Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the commandments from G‑d and the people started to panic as they thought that he delayed too much in coming down. They jumped to the conclusion that something fateful had happened to Moses and they started to complain to Aaron. The result was disastrous.

The men donated all their gold and jewelry to make a Golden Calf. The women however refused to participate in the building of the Golden Calf and the idolatrous festivities that followed. When Moses came down with the two tablets of the Ten Commandments he was so shocked and angry by what he saw that he broke them. He then called out, "Mi Hash-m Alai!" Whoever is for G‑d come to me!

Only a small group of Levites joined him Only a small group of Levites joined him. The Levites were later rewarded with the honor as serving G‑d in the Temple. They took the privileges of the first born and became the Nation's priests and teachers. And according to the Midrash, G‑d gave the holiday of Rosh Chodesh, the festival of the New Moon/Month, to the women as their reward for not sinning with the Golden Calf. Therefore it is an accepted practice in many communities that women refrain from certain mundane work on Rosh Chodesh.

Rosh Chodesh is a special, festive day. An extra prayer service is added to the morning service. Some people have the custom to wear a white shirt on Rosh Chodesh and eat a special meal, and there are prohibitions against eulogies and fasting. However, for the most part, work is permitted on Rosh Chodesh and on a superficial level, Rosh Chodesh looks like any other day. It is not like Shabbat or holidays where work is prohibited. You also don't have to sanctify Rosh Chodesh with a blessing on wine like Shabbat, Passover, Sukkot, or Shavuot.

Chanukah is also a holiday where mundane work is permitted. During Chanukah, we are not required to have a special meal or keep the laws and customs reserved for other holidays. But what we do which is unique to Chanukah, is that we light the menorah.

The Rambam (Maimonides) writes that the commandment of lighting the Chanukah candles is very precious. All the commandments are precious and loved by G‑d, but the Rambam singles out this one in particular.

The rulers of Greece were willing to accept most of the Torah and have it "incorporated" into Greek beliefs, but there were three Torah commandments which they sought to annul: Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh (celebrating the new moon) and Brit Milah (circumcision). They tried to persuade the Jews to join them and be like them. It was a very difficult time and the Greek offer to be like "everyone else" was very tempting.

The miracle of Chanukah is in the light However, just like in the incident with the Golden Calf, one man (in this case, Mattityahu), stood up and cried out, "Mi Hash-m alai!." A small group of men joined him as well as, of course, the holy Jewish women—who defied the Greeks in their own way.

The women did everything in their power to defy the harsh decree that had been issued by the Greeks. The Greeks ordained that every single girl had to be first brought to the Greek leader before she could be wed. One woman, Yehudit, the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest was exceptionally beautiful and the Greek General, Eliphorni, desired her. She pretended to acquiesce, came to his tent and fed him cheese and gave him wine. He became intoxicated and fell asleep. Praying to G‑d for strength she fearlessly beheaded him with his own sword and brought his head to Jerusalem. When the enemy commanders saw what had happened they fled. As a reminder of their bravery and loyalty to G‑d, there is a custom that as long as the Chanukah lights are burning women refrain from doing work. (The Maharil writes that this is a tradition for everyone.)

In the winter months when the day is short and the night is long we are commanded to light the menorah at nightfall, illuminating the darkness. The flickering lights contrast against the black of the night. A small amount of light amidst a lot of darkness makes a great distinction. The miracle of Chanukah is not the winning of battles. We did that before and we have done that since. The miracle of Chanukah is in the light; it is in the miracle that G‑d performed for us by making the small amount of pure oil last for eight days and the message that comes with this miracle. The message that we were created separate and distinct. And the message that we were created to be a light in the darkness.