It was the darkest of times, the subjugation of Judea under Antiochus. As the story goes, the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple for the worship of God. They needed to light its lamps against the darkness of oppression at this darkest time of the year. They found a cruse of oil. How long would it last? Nobody knew. Would it be enough? Nobody knew. I’m sure there were those who said: Forget it. There’s not enough to make a real difference. Let’s focus on something else. Let’s get the economy going.
Nevertheless, they lit the oil. And it lasted, enough to dispel the darkness and to keep Judea rallied against its oppressors.
Isn’t that how it always is? The darkness seems so intense, so smothering, so all-pervasive that we are discouraged from any effort, lest it be swallowed up and the darkness seem even worse now than before. But we never know for sure, do we? Perhaps the match we light, the spark we generate, will be enough. Enough to make a difference. Enough, even, to last.
These times appear dark. A pandemic and quarantine. American racism more fully uncovered. Violence burgeoning. Expectations and institutions unmoored. The extremes more agitated while the middle trembles.
But Chanuka comes in the midst of the darkness, as it always does. Following Hillel, we light first one candle, then a second, then a third, and so on – adding to the light, increasing its radiance and holiness. We don’t follow Shammai, who started with all of the candles lit and then dropped another one each day.
That is our mandate. That is our mitzvah. Find one little candle that you can light and strike the match. Let it burn in the darkness not as a threat, which fire can be, but as a light and a warmth to others. Call someone who’s alone. Give food to a pantry. Share a lovingkindness that will inspire someone else to share in the same way. Be kind. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your neighbor more than yourself.
Stick that candle in the window of your home at night. Or let your eyes and smile be the candle on the Zoom screens of your days.
Don’t forget – you might never know how much light you’ve given.
But be sure that just as the days will again begin to lengthen on December 21st, your light will bring light to someone else.
Chag urim l’simcha – may our festival of lights be joyous this year as in years past,