Lighting the Way

If you’re surprised that I’m blogging right now, let me tell you that no one is more surprised at this development than I am. The months of silence have encapsulated the difficulty of most of this year, which has swept past me in what seems like a tidal wave. 2015, it seems, has left with me with too many feelings and too few words–and afraid of writing something honest but inadequate or polished but insincere, I chose to write only for myself and to let the silence in this space speak for itself.

The fact is, this year has been full of darkness and turmoil for the entire world. My heart has grown heavy as I read the news, and I have ended up taking several steps back from social media to try and preserve my sanity. It has become increasingly hard to remain positive about my future and the future of our world in the face of so much horror, and so this year I wasn’t as excited for Chanukah as I normally am.

And then I had to write a d’var for my synagogue board meeting, which made me think about what Chanukah means to me this year.

Normally, I would have centered my d’var on this week’s Torah portion, and indeed I tried to spend some time with Joseph and immerse myself in his journey to find new meaning. But I couldn’t get out of my own head and focus on Joseph’s interpretation of dreams. or on the way he tests his siblings. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me like the point was actually that Joseph’s journey to self-realization is an example of what happens when one remains authentic despite changing circumstances. So I wondered, what is the authentic meaning or message of Chanukah? What should I be feeling when I celebrate it?

As our festival of lights, Chanukah celebrates not just the miracle of that lamp whose oil lasted for eight days, but the joy of homecoming and victory after years of darkness and fighting. It is about the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, and the comfort that we draw from remembering that there was once a time when despair and exhaustion gave way to joy through the power of hope. And with tikkun olam on the brain, I thought of our power as Jews to light the world–to help make it a better place by finding ways to chase away the shadows and light the way forward.

A beloved quote by Edith Wharton then came to mind:

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.

I feel like I have spent some time trying to find the darkness by being the mirror–but that HaShem is calling me, along with the rest of the Tribe, to be the candles instead. In the same vein as the drive to repair the world or beautify a mitzvah, we should be looking for ways to light up the world around us, however small they may be, and thus combat the darkness in the world with kindness and love.

And so, my Chanukah 5776 plan, which I encourage you to follow as well, is to do at least one act of kindness to light the way for someone else, be it something big or something small, so that every candle shines bright with the joy of gemilut chasadim and tzedakah, of loving-kindness and giving.

Happy Chanukah!


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