Chanukah, the “holiday of lights” is celebrated precisely at the time of year when the days are shortest and the nights of darkness are longest.
Light versus Darkness is a crucial theme throughout the Jewish history.
At its inception, the Torah equates “tohu vavohu” chaos and confusion, with darkness: “והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על פני התהום”
Hashem indeed created darkness on the first day in order to prepare Man for his eternal divine task of revealing His Light and illuminating His world even in the difficult times, with sanctity and harmony. We are urged by the Almighty to pursue life zealously in a quest for clarity and a higher consciousness. The light and the darkness, the day and the night, the good and the bad are purposefully designed in such duality. These elements of nature stimulate an internal struggle that is a catalyst to overcome our fear of darkness, our despair in the night and our attraction towards bad, and deems us worthy of being called Human Beings created in the image of G-d. We must be aroused from our slumber as the bear that hibernates through the dark winter, in order to sharpen our senses and actualize our keen potential to ignite a passionate and glowing flame of Avodat Hashem.
Our Chanukah story takes place in Palestine in the year 3597 as two miracles unfold: the supernatural miracle of the tiny jug of oil lasting for eight days and the miraculous victory of the few against the many, a miracle embedded in nature. While the military victory can be attributed to the nature of a superior war strategy, we celebrate eight days to signify that all of Creation and its “natural” functioning is nothing but miraculous and attests to the transcendence of Hashem.
The allure of Hellenism impaired our clarity with its enticing pursuit of knowledge alongside its admiration of theatre, athletic competitions, and worship of the human body. It was a dark period for the Jews who were rapidly assimilating some willingly and others due to edicts prohibiting Torah study and observance of Shabbat and Brit Milah.
This period is reminiscent of the Egyptian slavery foisted upon the Jews following their immersion in the hosts’ culture and enjoying a life of plenty and materialism. Assimilation was rampant and a complete turn around and era of darkness and despair befell the Jews to “assist” them in recovering their innate Divine sparks and prevents their total disappearance from the stage of history.
Due to the Egyptian fervor to annihilate the Jews, they were punished with the ten plagues, including Makat Hoshech, the Plague of Darkness.
At this time we are told: (שמות י: כב-כג) “ויהי חשך אפלה….ולא ראו איש את אחיו”
“And there was a thick darkness throughout the land of Egypt….no man could see his brother” (Parshat Bo)
Chazal assert that darkness is inevitable when we do not see each other, when we are “tuned out” or choose not to see the infinite worth of those around us and ignore the uniqueness and divine essence of each Jewish soul.
The word אפלה (thick), has the letters, פלא ה’ the wonders of Hashem. We neglect to observe and discover the wonderfulness of each person we meet, and often fail to see others with the proper awe (יראה/ראיה) all too often taking them for granted and dismissing them without a second glance.
The Midrash Rabbah goes further and claims that the darkness was thick as a “dinar,” the ancient gold coin. It was the pursuit of money and the things that it could buy, that increased our egotism and dimmed our “vision” preventing us truly marveling at the depth and profundity of one another.
Has anything really changed? Are some of us not judging our spouses or potential spouses solely on outer appearance and their academic status which translates into their earning potential? Are we so busy chasing the “all mighty dollar” (which is quickly eluding us) that we forget to cultivate and nurture the most important and meaningful relationships of our life?
Perhaps this is the key to the alarming divorce rate now plaguing our observant communities. The superficial and cursory view we take of one another is a form of blindness and darkness in relating to the Divine spark embedded in the DNA of each and every Jew’s soul!
Herein lies the fascinating meditative custom reserved for the extraordinary “Festival of Lights.”
We are urged as a great segulah to meditate upon the flickering candles each night after hadlakat nerot, for half an hour. We are supposed to stare so long and hard that eventually through the tears of our soul as we meditate and focus on the tiny dancing flames that are attempting to rise to the heavens, the lights blend together and we see but one.
This is our eternal challenge. We begin with one candle that is our own.
“נר ה’ נשמת אדם”
We must first see and discern our own worth and value, our ability to shine and bring light to the world. It is only then that we can appreciate and admire the people around us and be curious enough to want to explore their inner world of light and reveal their Divine soul as well. We are all spark of the Divine Light endeavoring to re-unite and re-establish our true source as a singular soul, Knesset Yisrael.
Despite being tiny, that small pitcher of concealed oil was a miracle waiting to happen. It is most possible that the Greeks saw it when they entered the Temple to destroy it, but they didn’t really see it. They didn’t see the potential and inherent miraculous nature of this minute jug of pure oil.
So too, we look at others but do we truly see? Are we open to witnessing Hashem’s ever-present and constant miracles by slowing down and taking the time to pay attention to what our spouse is saying or what our date is really all about? If we are to gaze for half an hour at the shining candle lights shouldn’t we be exploring and more curious about the people that we live with or could potentially live with?
As the Temple was miraculously re-dedicated by the Hashmonaim, may we redirect our passions and see clearly enough to illuminate the spiritual in the mundane.
Chanukah is an opportunity to observe the ordinary and discover the extraordinary in ourselves and all those that we come in contact with.
Chanuka is a time to take heed of the constant miracles that occur at each and every moment and learn to regard them as Hashem’s self-revelation within nature, for He is the Creator of that Nature.
Perhaps then, we will see extraordinary miracles in our times as we usher in the Mashiach, hinted in the acrostic:
מדליקין שמונת ימי חנוכה
Chag Urim Sameach
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Sherrie B. Miller, MA. is co-founder of Bechirat Halev, an organization that promotes marriage education in Israel. Sherrie is a certified Kallah teacher and marriage counselor with a private practice in Jerusalem.