Sunday, November 28, 2010

Light One Candle

One of the great tragedies of life is that it is so much easier to destroy than to create. Just consider the World Trade Center. It took many years for a gigantic team of architects, engineers, and construction workers to build the Twin Towers—and just one horrific fall morning for a handful of terrorists to obliterate them. Relationships—whether between individuals or nations—work much the same way: years of slowly accrued trust can be brought to naught with a single act of betrayal. Entropy prevails; as the novelist Chinua Achebe notes, “Things fall apart.”

And yet. . . people still overwhelmingly choose life over death and good over evil, and things come together at least as much as they fall apart. Why is this? I believe the moral at the heart of human life is not the sad ease of destruction but the miraculous ability of a little light to dispel deep darkness. One small candle can illuminate an entire room. Every day, legions of ordinary men and women perform countless unnoticed acts of valor.

This miracle is at the center of the festival of Chanukah, which begins on Wednesday night. As the story goes, a single cruse of oil burned for eight nights, illuminating the re-dedicated Temple with its flame. Therefore, at the darkest time of the year—the new moon closest to the winter solstice—we re-commit ourselves to our Jewish calling to bring light to a darkening world.

Over the festival’s eight nights, we burn thirty six Chanukah lights (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8=36). Yes, I know those little blue boxes actually contain forty four candles, but eight of them serve as the nightly shamash, the candle used to kindle the others, which is really just a glorified match rather than a symbol of the holiday itself. Rabbi Nosson Slifkin, author of Seasons of Life, teaches that each Chanukah light represents one of the lamed-vovniks, the legendary thirty six hidden righteous ones of every generation who secretly sustain the world with their light. Again: light is found in unexpected places, and a little goes a very long way.

This week, as Chanukah approaches, try asking yourself: Where do I find light when my world feels dark? And what can I do to kindle light—and blessing and hope—for others?

Happy Chanukah,

Rabbi Dan

No comments: