At the darkest time of the year, when the daylight hours are at their shortest and the cold has set in, as the moon gets smaller and smaller until it finally disappears, we light our menorahs. One starts to see a pattern emerging, a confluence of darkness in both time and space. It is into this place, at this time, that we bring light.
In all of our lives we have times and places where the "darkness" seems to gather. One loses a loved one, a job, gets angry at their children (or spouse) for leaving their clothes on the door. There is no lack of potentially dark moments in our lives. Even the "good" things have a "dark side" - the stress of marrying off a child or attending a family gathering, the stress of moving to a new home, or the exhaustion that comes with having a newborn baby.
Hanukah teaches us powerful tools for bringing light into the darkness.
A famous question is asked: Why do we celebrate the miracle of the burning oil for 8 days? Since there was enough oil to burn for one day, the First day wasn't a miracle at all, it was natural! Chanukah should be only seven days.This is not so. Who says that oil should burn at all? It is also miraculous! In reality, G-d's Hand is behind everything that happens. "Natural" means that we have become accustomed to expect that this is the way things should be. We can bring more light into our lives by appreciating the miraculous nature of the world around us, and cultivate gratefulness for things we take for granted.
Greek philosophy praises aesthetics and appearances. A person's light comes from how they appear to the world. They believe it's the externals that matter. The Greeks were the only conquerors of Israel who did not destroy the structure of The Temple. Instead they defiled all of the vessels inside. Their inside could be impure and rotten to the core; it's the outside appearance that matters. The Torah compares Jews to oil. That which is extracted from the inside is the source of light, to teach us not to be fooled by appearances. We miss out on many wonderful opportunities and don't get to know many great people because we dismiss them based on a superficial impression.
Every person has inherent value and a unique contribution to make. The light of the Hanukah menorah is additive. When one candle lights another, its own light is not diminished in any way. Actually, the candle's ability to provide light is increased due to its cooperation with the others. When we find our unique light and share it with the world, everyone wins.
The eight lights of the menorah are the same height. We all have our unique roles and light to shine into this world. It is very easy to look at one person's role as being more important than another's. When a little gasket in your car starts leaking, it can totally incapacitate your vehicle. This little piece may not be as glorious as the engine, but it is no less important to the operation of the vehicle. We may not all have high profile roles to fulfill in this world, but each and every one of us is unique and the world needs our unique light!
One of the three decrees of the Greeks was to forbid Jews from sanctifying the new moon each month. The lunar cycle is the monthly sign of renewal. There are times when the moon is full and the nights seem bright. There are other times when the moon is absent and the darkness of night is very deep. One of the ways that people fall into despair is to lose hope when they find themselves in darkness. We all go through ups and downs. We are commanded to bless the moon when it first appears right after disappearing completely. What a wonderful message of faith to remember that even when it appears dark and all seems to be forsaken, the light will come back again. Hang in there.
There is plenty of darkness in the world. May we all merit taking the messages of Hanukah into our lives