כ״ב בכסלו ה׳תשע״ד (November 25, 2013)
There are two schools of thought in Jewish tradition as to how the Chanukah menorah is to be lit. The Talmud tells us: Beit Shammai rules – On the first day of Chanukah, we light eight candles; each day thereafter, we decrease the lights by one. Beit Hillel rules – On the first day of Chanukah, we light one candle; each day thereafter, we increase the lights by one.
The tradition accepted and followed by Jews the world over, without exception, is to follow the opinion of Beit Hillel; we light one light on the first night, two on the second and so on, until all eight are burning together.
The visual effect of this method of lighting is very striking. We see very clearly how the amount of light and warmth increases on a daily basis. We see that however much light there was yesterday, today we need to add another flame, to spread more light. The metaphor is very apt for our daily lives. When the Jews were attacked by Syrian Greeks who defiled all they held pure; who replaced an invisible Creator with a tangible idol of wood or stone; who replaced the warm light of Judaism with the cold light of Greek culture, sport and philosophy … their response (apart from defending themselves militarily) was to keep spreading light. Light another candle, warm another soul.
Today, for all the wonderful advancements in technology and healthcare that we are so blessed with, we still find ourselves fighting the darkness. We need only look a little further afield, past our family and community, and wherever we look, we see death and destruction, war and genocide, pain and suffering. We read of people being held as slaves, of the exploitation of children and the trafficking of humans. We read of honour killings and hangings, of terrorists attacking shopping malls or colleges, and of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
So what do we do? Do we cower away, ever concerned when the next tragedy will hit?
Of course not. Because each and every one of us is a lighthouse, with the ability to light up the darkness. Lighthouses don’t give up because it is dark and cold outside … they do their best, through darkness, storm and typhoon, to keep spreading light, to keep making a difference.
Fred Rogers was a TV host and educator in the US. He used to say that when he was a child and he would see scary things on the news, his mother would always say to him, “Son, look for the helpers. In every tragedy, you will always find people who are helping.”
It is easy to look at the dark and frightening things happening in the world around us. It is easy to give in to feelings of fear or despair, especially when we are personally affected by bad news or tragedy. The message of Chanukah tells us otherwise: When it is cold and dark outside, in the depths of winter, then it is time to light the menorah. To kindle those flickering flames in our windows, chasing away the darkness one light at a time, one night at a time. And every day we increase the light, never content with what we achieved the night before.
The message of Chanukah is not just about lighting that flame at home. It is about lighting that flame wherever we are. As we walk in the street, or in the office, we need to light that flame, to light up the world around us. Whether that is a smile to a stranger or a helping hand to someone in need, we can light that flame to warm up the world in so many ways. Two anecdotes come to mind which illustrate the difference those small kindnesses can make: The first is of a NY police officer who saw a homeless man sitting without shoes on a freezing cold night. He could have ignored him like so many others, but he didn’t, he went into a shoe store and bought the man a pair of brand new shoes. He then came outside and helped fit the shoes to his frozen feet.
The other anecdote is of a cyclist who came back to her bicycle to find a note attached. The note read as follows, “I park my bike next to yours every day. Today I see that someone has stolen your front wheel. I know you are going to have a lousy day, so here’s a small something to help cheer you up!” Clipped to the note was a voucher for a free coffee in the local coffee shop.
These are just two tiny examples of humans doing what they do best, bringing a little light to a sometimes dark world. That is what Chanukah is about, each of us lighting small flames in the darkness, small kindnesses which join together to make the world a better place for us all. Happy Chanukah.
Rabbi Zalman Lent
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