For a brief time on this last night of Hanukkah, millions of small candles were lit. The world was a brighter place during those few moments.
And then it was over, and it was dark again.
Darkness and light are inextricably intertwined. They offer, if we are willing to see it, a kind of balance. Next week is the winter solstice, when we experience the shortest day of the year, and then the days will slowly lengthen until the summer solstice, when once again there will be balance, as we have the longest day of the year.
The last night of Hanukkah marks the end of our celebration, marks the renewal of what Mircea Eliade called profane time, in opposition to sacred time.
But I am sitting a few feet from my menorah, no longer filled with colorful candles and flickering flames, and I don’t feel any different. Tonight is no less holy than it was earlier. It is still filled with possibility, with hope, with love, with the deep, satisfying breaths that come at the end of the day.
Rabbi David Zasloff wrote this week, “The darkest moments in our lives give us the contrast, the context for the brightest days ahead. Celebrate the dark. Let’s leave off the illusion where light is seen as the opposite of dark and see them intertwined in oneness.”
There are different kinds of light, just as there are different ways of seeing. I see around me a world where people shine as brightly – no, even more brightly – than my small candles. I see a world where nurses and doctors and hospital custodians are shining beacons.
I see a world where researchers and scientists shine so brightly that they can create vaccines in less than a year, a feat never before accomplished. I see a world where everyday people stay away from loved ones and wear masks in public because they are wrapping the light of protection around everyone, both family and strangers.
And yes, there is darkness in this world around me too. There is pain and suffering and loss, all of which are harder when a pandemic is raging outside our doors. There are people who inexplicably want to hurt others, and people who choose to deny the reality of death and illness that hangs over our nation, a special kind of darkness that is so black it is seemingly impenetrable.
I had a teacher in rabbinical school who taught future rabbis various techniques to take care of themselves while they helped others deal with difficult times. Some were practical – eat well, sleep enough, remember to take time off. But she also told us to imagine a column of pure light reaching from the ground to the sky, right in front of us, and when we could see it, to step inside.
I haven’t thought about that column of light for a long time. I know that the imagined light is but a momentary respite from darkness.
And yet, sometimes that’s all we need. Just a few moments of breathing in the light, real or imagined.
We are so good at imagining darkness, so good at worrying about things that loom in the darkness of imagination – illnesses that might happen, mistakes we might make, problems we might encounter.
I think it’s time to become equally adept at imagining light.