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Be The Light

Torah Talk on Mikets 5780

Once there was a Chasid who was afraid of the dark. “Tell me, Rebbe,” the Chasid asked, “How can I chase the darkness from the world?”

So, the Rabbi sent the Chasid into the deep darkness of the shul’s basement. Handing him a broom he said, “Go sweep the darkness out of the basement.”

Before long, the Chasid returned. “Rebbe, I swept and swept, but the darkness did not budge an inch!” The Rabbi nodded and murmured sympathetically. Darkness can be stubborn thing… He reached into his drawer and took out a ruler.

“Take this stick and drive the darkness out by beating it.” Soon the Chasid returned and told the Rabbi, “Beating it did not chase away the darkness!” So the Rabbi suggested he shout and scream at the darkness to frighten it away. But yelling at the dark did not work either; it only made the Chasid’s voice hoarse.

Exhausted, frustrated, he made his way up the stairs, tired and afraid, and approached the Rabbi again. The Rabbi took out a candlestick, lit the candle, and led the Chasid back down the stairs. And it was a miracle! For wherever the light’s glow met the darkness, the darkness evaporated before their eyes.

“We dispel darkness,” the Rabbi said, “Not by sweeping gestures, or by violence, or by loud noisy cries, but by bringing a little bit of brightness to our world.”

The mitzvah on Hanukkah is to light a small flame, L’Hadlik ner shel Hanukkah. That is the essence of the Jewish response to a world that seems to fill with darkness. When faced with darkness, shine a light.

We have always been afraid of the dark. Our sages tell us that as night descended at the end of humanity’s very first day on earth, Adam saw the sun go down, and was terrified. Would the sunlight ever return? Adam sat and wept. Was the light to be banished forever? And God gave him the capacity to think to rub two sticks together and create light.

This year, so many of us have experienced moments of anxiety and fear. We want to banish the darkness, to sweep it away, but our efforts seem futile. We strike out, and change nothing positively. We shout angrily, but the world is the world, wars rage, the economy has its own cycle, politics is politics. The gloom is lingering.

We are only finite creatures of flesh and blood and weakness who cannot prevent sickness and loss. So how can we sweep darkness out of the world?

How does Judaism help us to hold on through life’s inevitable dark times?

In this week’s Torah portion of Mikets Joseph is in the depths of despair, forgotten, locked away in an Egyptian prison, then as now a terrible place. He has fallen far and fast, betrayed by those he trusted most. He has every reason to give up hope, to surrender to despair.

And yet he chooses not to. Instead the great dream interpreter tries to help his fellow prisoners, to stave off depression by caring.

In the darkness of a dungeon he lights a light. It is the light of help and the light of hope. And it truly banishes the darkness. That light will lead Joseph to save the country, and his own family, from death, and finally catapult him nearly to the throne. What an inspiring reminder.

During these shortest days of this year it is time that we rededicate ourselves to the real purpose of Chanukah. For the lights of Chanukah were meant to banish darkness from our world—our own darkness. With this light, we can emerge from the shadows and illuminate our world.

We can truly become the light we all need.

Chag Chanukah Samei’ach!

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