A little light dispels a lot of darkness…… but sometimes this is not enough.
There is a tale about a hassid that once asked his Rebbe a very subtle question: `Rebbe, why in the previous generations people immersed in cold waters of the Mivkah but we need to heat the water?`. The Rebbe thought for a moment and told him: ‘In the past, people had a very warm heart, so they could deal with the cold water. Unfortunately, we have colder hearts, so we need to heat the water to warm ourselves’.
As we approach the beautiful and inspirational days of Hanukkah, I have the privilege to share with you some thoughts. Even though this is my debut in this prestigious forum, I leave formal introduction to another occasion. I would just like to mention that for more than two decades I’m involved in Jewish Education, Community affairs and Rabbinical practice in São Paulo, Brazil.
To testify the changing, strengthening and reshaping of our community along the last decades is inspiring and encouraging. Torah permeates different instances of our community. Institutions have flourished, affiliation and community engagement also expanded. Jews from a broad range and diversity are proud members and protagonists at different projects and initiatives, local and globally.
Unfortunately, this is not enough.
At the same time that we witness the rebuilt of Jewry in our community and all around the World, hundreds and thousands of our brothers and sisters abandon their heritage, tradition and roots. Jewish assimilation challenges our People, our continuity and our future.
This is not only a Diaspora phenomenon. For sure we feel assimilation damages with much more intensity, in particular at small communities where Jewish life is ending, leaving behind memories and absence. This is the immediate and tangible aspect of Jewish assimilation. But probably, not its obscure and threatening one.
Spiritual, Cultural and National assimilation have a deeper and enduring effect. Apathy, unawareness and insensibility are some of its symptoms. Coldness, indifference and detachment sediment the rupture apart from our identity.
Hanukkah Festival represents the struggle for sovereignty, both of the body and the soul. Maharal says that the Greeks aim was both against the Temple and the holly Torah. They intended not only to impure the body but the soul, unplugging our People from its vital spring of spirituality.
Therefore, we celebrate Hanukkah days lighting candles. Through the brightness of the light we remember the miracles of those days. We contemplate their beauty, we rejoice recalling the courage and we get inspired from the spirit of purity and resilience.
Yet this is not enough!
Our Sages determines that Hanukkah days shall also be celebrated with Hallel veHoadaa, Praise and Acknowledgement. Through the expression of rejoice and connection with God, we transform the light into action, we materialize our feelings and drive them to deeds.
The candles are there just to be seen, as we say, “lirotam bilvad”. In the other hand, we are there not only to see the candles burning, but to inflame our bodies, to relive our souls and to pump all this energy into our lives.
In some generations, seeing the light might be enough. At those times people could take for granted and to satisfy themselves with the saying “A little light dispels a lot of darkness”. Probably this worked when the light was needed only to illuminate.
But, at the time that the fire is needed to warm, to reanimate and to refresh, we need more!!! Passion, emotion and vibration are essential ingredients to promote action.
To light a candle, you only need a wick, some oil and a spark. But to produce heat, you need much more effort. It is a continuous and prolonged process. Besides the fire, you need flammable material, that have to be added as long as you need to maintain the temperature. And if you don’t have any material, you need to move and warm yourself through motion. Another option is to hug someone and the bodies will warm each other.
I’m very fortunate to see and work with extraordinary philanthropists, lay and rabbinical leaders, students and families who dedicate their lives to embrace, engage and bring youth, adults and elderly people closer to their roots. I’m not talking about turning people more religious or Frum. I’m talking about mentoring and guiding people to get in touch with their deeper and inner feelings, to help them find meaning and purpose in their lives, to recover their Jewish identity, to discover their uniqueness and to fulfill their potential.
In this Chanukkah, let us not only light the candles. Let us warm the hearts of each other, with flame and passion!!!
Rabbi Saul (Shmuel) Paves.