Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. Usually, I would light one menorah, which means that I would light two candles – the shamash, or helper candle, and the candle representing the first night.
But today someone sent me a quote from Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who along with being a sex therapist is a Holocaust survivor. She recently said, “In times of darkness, bring more light. This year light two menorahs.”
It has indeed been a dark year, and getting darker by the day. Today, more than 3,000 people in the US died of the pandemic. Nearly 300,000 Americans died this year, and millions more suffered from the illness, and uncounted others suffered from these astounding losses. People are out of work, homeless, frightened.
So I lit two menorahs. Four candles.
It didn’t feel like enough light to dispel the darkness. I looked outside and it was cold and so very dark. My candles aren’t enough.
But I have more than two menorahs. I counted, and realized that I have ten menorahs. If I light all ten on the eighth night there will be 90 candles shining in the darkness.
It still doesn’t feel like it will be enough.
Although I love the Talmud teaching that no candle is diminished when it lights another, the truth is that the candles will burn down and disappear. Within minutes all of that light, all of those tiny, beautiful, flickering flames will be gone. Forever. And the darkness will return.
We need more. We need more than Hanukkah candles, more than Kwanza candles, more than Christmas candles. We need a different kind of flame today, a flame that won’t sputter and disappear. A flame that will shine so brightly that the darkness will fall back in despair. A flame that proves that light can prevail.
That flame is us. You and me and everyone else. We have to shine so brightly that nothing can stop us. Not covid, not poverty, not hatred, not ignorance, not fear. We must insist on shining our brightest. Day and night.
The prophet Isaiah penned a note to us from the Divine:
“I the Lord, in my grace, have summoned you.
And I have grasped you by the hand.
I created you, and appointed you
A covenant people, a light to the nations –
Opening eyes deprived of light.
Rescuing prisoners from confinement
From the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6-7)
That’s our job. To be the light. Whoever you are, whatever you believe. Whenever you light a candle or see a candle flickering, be reminded: That’s me. That’s my task, to shine and shine and shine.
How do you do that? I don’t know. I only know how to make myself shine. Each of us has our own inner light, our own way to brighten the world and send the darkness scurrying into the corners. It will try to return; it always does. That’s OK. Our job isn’t to worry about the darkness trying to creep back. Our job is to keep shining with all the hope and determination we can muster.