Chanukah is being celebrated this week by Jews everywhere. A minor festival, it has taken on an increased sense of importance in contemporary American society. Partly, this is a result of its proximity to Christmas. Another factor contributing to the increased emphasis on Chanukah is that it serves a basic human spiritual need.
Now, at this time of year, in the Northern Hemisphere, light is in short supply. The days are reaching their shortest, and it begins to grow dark as early as 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon. Many of us leave for work in the morning while it is still dark and arrive home in the evening after darkness has already fallen. In many parts of the country we find ourselves bundled up against the weather, be that cold, snow or incessant rain. There is a distinct feeling of being besieged.
And, at this time of year, we find festivals. Whether it is Christmas, Winter Solstice or Chanukah, it is a time when religion seeks to bring some light into the darkness. It is a reminder that despite the current darkness, the light will return. Spring will arrive, eventually, regardless of how far away it now appears.
Chanukah serves as a particularly potent reminder of this. Over the 8 nights, we increase the number of candles by one each night, increasing the light each night. We increase the light each night, an attempt to ward off the darkness.
The flames ward off the darkness within us, as well as the darkness outside. It is a reminder of comfort and warmth at a time of year that many of us have trouble. We can see in the flames hope for the lightening of the soul. Chanukah is an opportunity for us to refocus on the good in our lives, rather than being stuck in the cold and the bleak.
So this Chanukah, as we watch the candles burn, let the candles’ warmth shine into your soul and bring a brighteness into the darkness.