Shlomo Ezagui

A Lack of Light and, Real Darkness

shraga kopstein

The central theme of Hanukkah is light. Through the 36 lights we kindle on Hanukkah, we connect with and draw from the primordial light that shone for 36 hours after Adam and Eve were created.

Big bonfires and great torches are not always necessary to address darkness, for even “a little light chases away much darkness.” While a stronger light is better than a weaker one, the principle is the same. Add a little light, and a lot of darkness is gone.

There are times, however, when real obstacles stand between the light and the darkness, a thick, impenetrable dark cloud separating “the sun, the earth, and its inhabitants.”

The same is true of each individual’s service: “And you shall be a light unto the nations. […] The candle of God is the soul of each person.”

In his or her mission to shine the light, a person can be challenged internally and externally with “distance” or actual “obstacles.”

“Distance” describes those things that are not forbidden according to the Torah and retain the potential for holiness when used for a Godly purpose. They are still far from it until it is used as something Holy.

When a person takes kosher ingredients and makes bread for the Shabbat table and, before eating, washes his hands and pronounces a blessing over the food, he has brought the light of Godliness and spirituality into what is otherwise darkness. Regular flour is transformed uplifted, and brought close as a vehicle for Godliness.

There are things God reveals to us that may be used as support and preparation to serve Him, like using a knife for circumcision or animals which, while unacceptable to be brought on the Altar, are kosher and may be eaten with the proper preparation.

Then, there are the actual “obstacles” to light; what God tells us is forbidden. There is no way to make “kosher” a pig. Stolen money can never be laundered into kosher money because its existence is a “black hole” an obstacle, and the antithesis of holiness.

The books of Chassidus discuss whether darkness is merely the absence of light or an actual existence and substance of darkness. The conclusion is that both are true in different ways. “God formed light and created darkness.” The ninth plague in Egypt, darkness, started as a lack of light and ended with “the substance of darkness.” People could not stand, and those standing could not sit.

We are always expected to light up the darkness. It is, therefore, imperative to know what level of darkness one is dealing with. Does it fit into the definition of real, substantive darkness? Adding light alone is not enough for these tangible manifestations of evil. Or is it the type of darkness defined merely as a lack of light? For this kind, the sole act of igniting positivity can force the negativity to dissipate.

These two levels of darkness were addressed during the time of Hanukkah.

The Maccabees first had to fight the Greeks, who presented formidable and real darkness to the practice of our Godly spiritual Torah. Only after they were defeated and eliminated from Israel and the place of the Holy Temple, did the Maccabees approach the source of light, the menorah, and attempt to light it with the only substance that could and would bring light—pure olive oil untouched by the Greeks.

As a result of the above distinction between actual darkness and a lack of light, our sages recommend lighting the menorah “as the sun is setting” rather than when it is already dark outside. They say this to allude to the idea of using light to illuminate only the affected areas where a lack of light has caused it to dim.

Like with the original Hanukkah, King David instructs us in his Psalms to “turn away from darkness and do good.” Working on adding light will not always be enough to eliminate and address the darkness.

First, one must isolate and define what is clearly absolute darkness and eliminate it in whatever possible way. Only then can the second step be undertaken: to shine the world in pure light.

Our inner world, the foundation of dealing with all hardships in the outside world, and internal challenges to the soul’s light can be successfully overcome by studying the Torah: “For a mitzvah is a candle, and the Torah is light.” “When the evil inclination challenges you drag him to the study of Torah.”  Eventually, with the wisdom and guidance of our Holy Torah, all darkness will be eliminated.

Hanukah and the lighting of the menorah every night are very potent forces to help introduce more light and less darkness in our minds, hearts, and the world at large.

Chapter 283

About the Author
Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui is an author and lecturer. "A Spiritual Soul Book" ( & "Maimonides Advice for the 21st Century" ( In 1987, Rabbi Ezagui opened the first Chabad Center in Palm Beach County, Florida, and the first Orthodox Synagogue on the island of Palm Beach, Florida.
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