I listen to crackling of the last drips of oil as the fire burns out on this last night of Chanukah. The flames leap and dance, jumping up one last time, trying to stay alive, but fighting the inevitable. I close my eyes and try to relish the scene before me, to add this to my list of memories, to make it last a little longer. And I let my mind wander.
Blog posts, articles, speeches abound as to the meaning of the menorah and the miracles of Chanukah. But on this final day, I have one final thought. The small jug of oil that just kept burning seems so poignantly symbolic of the message it is giving. The lights of the menorah seem so deeply intrinsic to the lesson they are teaching.
Throughout the Torah, light is used as a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment. The Torah itself is called “ohr” (“Ki ner mitzvah vitorah ohr”– “The commandments are a lamp and the torah is a light” Mishlei 6:23). And even more, light is used as a metaphor happiness and joy. (“Layihudim hayisa ora visimcha visason vikar”- And to the Jewish people there was light, and happinnes, joy and gladness, Esther)
Light is wonderfully intriguing. As the greatest energy source we have, it sustains us. On a basic level, it warms us and it feeds us. On a more complex level, it enlightens us (literally!). It allows us to access and perceive what is around us. While light and dark are opposites, darkness is only the absence of light. Interestingly, light and dark are not equal. In a room full of darkness you only need a little bit of light to overcome the darkness, to be able to find your way. But in room full of light, a little bit of darkness will do nothing.
You don’t need to look further than the menorah to understand the lesson of Chanukah. When all around you is dark, all you have to do is light one small spark and it will keep burning and burning. The effects can be profound. Chanukah is a family holiday- each household must light its own menorah. The light of each individual family can have everlasting impact.
And how can modern science’s understanding of light enhance the lessons of Chanukah? Deeply! When Einstein published the Special Theory of Relativity, he gave us new understanding of light. Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. That is because everything in existence always moves relative to the speed the light. This has bizarre implications and has lead to all sorts of speculation. One of which is that if one could surpass the speed of light one could travel in time- getting ahead or behind time. Or, if one could figure out how to survive in a black hole- where there is a vacuum of light, time would stand still and a person could effectively live forever.
In my amateur understanding, this seems to unite light and time in an incredibly fascinating way. I can’t help but think back to the story of creation written in the Torah. On the first day of creation, God said “Yihee Ohr- Let there be light.” With this initiation of light, time seems to begin and the world is set in motion.
With this intermingling of the roles of light-as life sustaining energy, enlightenment of the world around us, and “mover” of time; the lessons of the menorah seem all the more powerful. We must never forget our mission as Jewish people- as the light unto the nations. Using the progress of time to continuously propel us to adjust and re-evaluate, to observe and to enlighten, to spread joy and kindness. To remind the world about the meaningfulness and richness of the gift of life. To remind the world of God. Just as in the story of the battle of Chanukah, the small conquered the many- a little bit of light can conquer mounds of darkness. We must never despair, even at times when the direction of our people feels like it has taken a wrong turn. All it takes is one small light to reignite the spark.