Sharing the Light (December 2020 KOL)

Sharing the Light

There is an old Jewish folktale about a family who wanted to drive darkness out of their home.  They went to their rabbi for advice.  The rabbi suggested they take brooms into their gloomy cellar and sweep away the darkness.  That didn’t work, so they returned to the rabbi.  The rabbi told them to take sticks and beat at the darkness till it was driven out.  But that didn’t work either.  “Yell at the darkness,” said the rabbi, “shout at it, command it to leave.”  Still no luck for the family.  “Now,” said the rabbi, “Light a candle, and use it to light other candles.”  The family went and lit candles.  And the darkness vanished.

We face an unusually dark winter this year.  The pandemic has darkened our days with soaring numbers of infections, hospitalizations, and even deaths.  More and more families will be impacted, with loved ones imperiled by the disease.  And no amount of attempting to sweep away the situation or shouting about it in disbelief will drive it away.  Let us hope that the news of impending successful vaccines are the rays of candlelight we need to brighten this gloom and vanquish this particular darkness.

There is an unique property to light. With other resources, like water, food, or energy, when the resource is shared among people, it is diminished.  Each person receives only a part of the whole.  But with light, the quantity doesn’t diminish.  It multiplies.  When one candle lights another, the first flame doesn’t shrink; the second flame grows.  Light can be shared again and again, increasing each time.  That is how the family in the story drove the darkness away.

Our holiday of Chanukah echoes this.  No matter how gloomy it may be at night, we kindle a candle and there is light.  Kindle two candles or more, and light fills the space we are in, bringing brightness even into dark corners.  The Talmudic academies of Hillel and Shammai debated whether to celebrate Chanukah by starting with eight candles and removing one each night, or by starting with one candle and adding one each night.  Ultimately, our sages ordained that we should add one candle on each night of the festival, as we should always seek to increase in holiness, not decrease. We strive for more light against the darkness, not less.

What a lesson that holds for us.  We share our light with one another when we gather as a community, even when our gathering is online.  We join together for learning, for praying, for making a difference in the lives of others.  Every person who joins in the community contributes their flame and the light grows.  Each of us can increase the light by our presence and participation, driving the darkness of isolation and loneliness farther away.  And in doing so, the light of Jewish living and learning blazes forth, brighter than ever, lighting the way forward for TBS as a community, and bringing light into our world.

This Chanukah, I wish you the brightness of faith and the increasing warmth of community.  May it be a festive celebration of light for us all.

Happy Chanukkah!

Rabbi David S. Widzer