Chanukah comes in the nick of time, it seems. As the days get darkest, we have light come into our lives. And that light increases every night, each night, until we have our eight lights plus the shamash, a brilliant array of light before us. In that moment, looking at our chanukiot, the darkness of the moment recedes as it gives way to light, and we can, perhaps for a moment, forget about the darkness. The darkness of this time of year, the darkness of being cooped up (and hearing of far too many who are not cooped up).
But that was last night. Tonight, we bid farewell to Chanukah. The holiday ends, we put the menorahs away, and the light stops increasing and simply stops. What do we do now that we are left with the darkness?
We have a similar question as we read this part of the Joseph story, in Parashat Mikketz. After thirteen years of captivity—first as Potiphar’s slave, then in prison—he emerges to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, and becomes the leader of all Egypt, second to the king only. Along with the title he is given a wife, and we are told that, during the years of plenty he anticipated, he and his wife have twins. He names the first Menashe: God has made me forget my suffering, and the second Ephraim, God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction. In this moment, before the famine, after his time in prison, it appears Joseph can leave behind the suffering he has experienced.
But that is not how life is. Fertility is replaced with seven years of famine that ravage the world, while his ability to forget his past suffering is interrupted by his brothers, now humbled by famine and poverty, arriving to beg him for aid. Like us, Joseph is soon reminded of the darkness beyond.
I had the chance to study with Rabbi Jill Jacobs of Truah this past week, and we studied some of the S’fat Emet, Rabbi Yehuda Leib of Ger, on the subject of Chanukah. In one of his discourses he writes, “especially at this season, when lights were miraculously lit for Israel even though they did not have enough oil, there remains light even now to help us, with the aid of these Chanukah lights, to find that hidden light, within. Hiding takes place mainly in the dark; we need the light to seek and find…”
The candlelight may have gone away, but that is not the real light that illumines our lives; it points only to the hidden light, the light within each of us. Darkness may surely be around us; it becomes our responsibility to uncover and reveal that hidden light and drive it away. As Arthur Green writes in his commentary of the S’fat Emet, “The Hannukah candles…are the light of the mitzvot by which we search out our inner selves. We are looking for the divine light within ourselves.” Surely it feels more difficult to do this work in this moment and requires more effort; light seems especially hidden. But we can reveal it. We can, though our actions and words and kindnesses to each other.
Arthur Green, in his commentary on the Sfat Emet, continues, “Chanukah is a time of rededication. Our inner temple, too, needs to be dedicated anew.” May we, through our commitment to our sacred obligations, rededicate ourselves to the sharing of light in darkness, helping those around us forget their pain and know the plenty, the bounty, that is their portion.