We Jews and our non-Jewish neighbors are really obsessed with holidays this time of year. Between approximately the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice, Jewish and non-Jewish Americans have practically all our holidays, especially our better-known ones. As this season progresses, the holidays change. Here in Brooklyn, we feel it getting colder, but even in a mild year, the experience of it getting darker is profound. The holidays that start Autumn are a bit dark themselves: on Rosh Hashana and especially on Yom Kippur we speak of the most morbid aspects of our spirituality. In the world around us, Halloween is a time when darkness (literal and figurative) reigns. But as the season progresses, we start looking for light. Our Jewish holidays become less about T’shuva and morph into Hanukkah, a commemoration of history and of miracle. I suppose the same could be said of Thanksgiving. In both cases, they reflect an important chapter in how we became who we are. Not our founding or independence day and, in fact, they’re both times when we celebrate momentary happiness in an otherwise pretty bleak era (and I’m not even getting into what our happiness meant for the people on the other side of the event).
We don’t call Hanukkah the festival of light (singular or all-encompassing) but the festival of lights. We’re being realistic: it is not a time when we see light all around us. The opposite is true: it is the time of year when it feels (because it is!) really dark. We look for lights and we find them, but only a few. As the season gets darker and darker, as the oil the miracle of which we celebrate diminishes and diminishes, it makes sense we’d find fewer and fewer lights. But we don’t. Instead, we light more. More each night. While the light outside is decreasing, the lights we light increase.
It is our searching for lights in the darkness, our finding it in Torah, in faith, and in each other, that increases the light. The lights don’t increase because each day there’s more of it but because there’s less of it, not because each day it’s more abundant, but because each day it is needed. That’s the miracle. May you find lights in the darkness and may you be for others the lights in their darkness.