Lighting a candle in the dark is the most elemental of all symbols of hope. Almost all Jewish holidays start with the lighting of candles. Bringing light into a dark world. This is the job of the Jews, to spread light. This is the lesson of lighting the Chanukiah.
On the first day, light was created. This is how the Torah begins. The Torah is compared to fire, illuminating our journey through the dessert at night. Rabbi Saul Lieberman noted that in Greek mythology Prometheus was punished for sharing fire with mortals. In Jewish tradition we have the opposite perspective. According to Medrash Rabba fire is bestowed upon Adam with the help of God on the first Motzei Shabbos, this is the back story of the Havdalah ritual.
On the first Saturday night ever, Adam is scared and despondent, he is in the need of courage to brave the cold dark world after being expelled from the garden. Adam collects two stones and with the help of God rubs them together and creates a spark, he lights a fire in the dark.
The book of Joshua, the first book of Neviim ( the Prophets) begins with God telling Joshua, "Be strong and have courage!" This phrase is repeated several times in the first chapter of the first book of the prophets. At this point the nation has lost its greatest leader of all time, Moshe. Now they are entering a hostile country to battle giants. God instructs Joshua to be strong, and the nation will follow his lead.
One of the goals of the ancient prophet and the modern Jew is to be strong,courageous to bring light to others, to aspire to inspire.
Last month I had the great privilege of attending the funeral of an extremely holy woman. She brought light to thousands of people’s lives simply by speaking to them, reaching out to them and giving them hope. Speaking to someone and giving them our time is like lighting someone else's candle. She made friends with everyone from janitors to Tupac Shakur and through her words she brought joy to others.
She grew up in England during WWII and would tell stories of when Britain was being bombed to bits by the Germans. Winston Churchill took to the radio like Joshua in ancient times and inspired the frightened nation to have strength and courage.
Each of us can serve as a Winston Churchill for someone. Inspiring someone in a dark time is what Chanukah is about.
The first Havdalah, on that first Saturday night when Adam was rubbing the two stones together is reflected in Shemot (Exodus). The story is recreated at Har Sinai, when Moshe also takes two stones, two tablets and with the help of God brings the fire of the Torah down the mountain to illuminate a dark world.
This event, of Matan Torah (receiving the Bible) is recreated in the Chanukah ritual. The Shamash is lit from an outside source and it is situated above the other candles, high on the mountain top. This candle then travels down below and spreads the light it has received, igniting each individual candle. As Moshe, Joshua and Winston Churchill did, so do we. Every night of Chanukah we light more candles just as every night we should try and spread more and more fire and inspire more and more people.
Chag Ha CHizuk - The season of inspiration.