Lesson One: To Shine Is to Be Other-Occupied; Not Self-Occupied
Try this: Sit your child on your lap and ask him or her: “Tell me, dear child, do you feel valued? Are you happy?” Your child will most likely look at you strangely, and think to himself, “What do you want from me? Who’s thinking about me? I’m busy living!” That is because children are not preoccupied with themselves. And so, they are happy.
Sadly, as we age, we become more and more self-preoccupied. Some of us even sink so deeply into our self-preoccupation that all we think about is our problems and our needs. This self-preoccupation quickly turns into moans and cries on how miserable life is.
Yet, we forget that the more we become other-occupied, instead of self-occupied, the happier our lives will be.
If we were able to speak to our Chanukah flames and ask them how they felt, they would probably offer us the same reply as the response of our child. Why? Because their very raison d’etre and their sole desire are to shine. And that’s what makes them so bright.
So, have you thought about someone else today to offer them anything, from a smile to a helping hand? Are you occupied with others more than you are occupied with yourself? If we too wish to shine like our Chanukah flames and be as happy as a child, our answer must be in the affirmative.
Lesson Two: To Shine Is to Know That the More We Give Light, the More Light We Will Have
A while ago, I asked my children which is their favorite Chanukah candle. They each shared their opinion, but my favorite response came from one of my younger children.
She chose the “Shamash” – the candle that is used to light the other candles – as her favorite one, “because it is the tallest one.”
She then said: “I know why it is the tallest. It’s the tallest because it has to watch over the other candles and light them if they go out. And when you watch over others and help them, it makes you taller.”
She was right. When we light others with a flame of warmth and love, and “watch over them,” we become “taller.”
This is also the enormous power of spirit over matter. When we share material valuables, we have less of them. The more money we share, the less money we have in our bank accounts. The more food we give away, the emptier our pantry will be.
But when we share spiritual valuables, we gain so much more. When we share our wisdom, we become even wiser. When we use our hearts to give and to love, we become more giving and loving. When we heal a broken spirit and use the flame of our soul to ignite and elevate another soul, our lives become brighter.
Lesson Three: To Shine Is to Look Heavenward
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a saintly Chassidic Master at the turn of the 19th Century, would often ask his disciples: “Did you look heavenward today?”
His message was profound: Oftentimes, we cannot liberate ourselves from life’s impediments because our thoughts and our ambitions are looking downward. Yet, we forget that what makes us free is our ability to look, and aim, heavenward, just like a flame.
We may define ourselves by the size of our bank account and the weight of our body. We may even say to ourselves, from time to time, “this is the way I was born, and this is the way I will always be.”
But our Chanukah flames remind us that our confining nature can be altered, and our narrow perspectives can be changed, if we can aim heavenward, and allow the limitless power of our potential, and the Divine flames of our soul to shine forth.
Lesson Four: To Shine Is to Never Retire
“You must increase, not only continue!” This was the advice the late Lubavitcher Rebbe gave to two Jewish leaders, who came to ask him for a blessing on September 28, 1987.
The Rebbe also explained his advice, with a resounding statement: “Every living thing must grow,” he exclaimed, “from strength to strength!”
This gem of wisdom, perhaps also reveals the hidden ingredient behind the greatness of every giant of history: they never stopped growing. No matter the challenge. And this is what made them robustly alive, and truly great.
My dear mentor, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, may G-d send him a full and speedy recovery, also has a list of many dreams that he wishes to accomplish in spite of his age of 81. A few years ago, after completing his life-work of translating and adding his own commentary to the entire Talmud (the first to do so, ever since Rashi, the 11th Century Jewish Sage), he revealed: “”I am preparing for the next 170 years because I have a lot of work to do. Now if the Boss decides that he wants me elsewhere so I will have to move, but as long as I am here I have lots of things to do.”
Our Chanukah flames also radiate this message. Ignite them and you will see them grow with tireless persistence. Gaze at them and you will appreciate their unquenchable thirst to burn on with unwavering determination. This is what makes them shine, and this is what can make us shine too.
So, on this Chanukah, let us commit ourselves to grow in all good ways possible. Let us take upon ourselves one more Mitzvah, and let us shine.
Lesson Five: To Shine Is to Believe That a Little Light Can Dispel a Lot of Darkness
Generally, there are two ways to fight spiritual darkness. One way is to engage in a face-to-face confrontation with darkness. When it comes our way, we converse with it, we analyze it, we strive to understand its root, and only then, do we engage in an attempt to remove it.
Another way is to simply ignite a flame before darkness even has time to conquer the stages of our lives.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky once recalled that when he was a child and his father would admonish him for doing something wrong, his father would never label him in degrading terms. For example, his father would never say to him that he is a “bad” boy. All his father would say is, “it is unbecoming of you.”
This instilled in his son, Abraham, an invaluable sense of worth, and it ignited in him a flame of love, faith, and hope, that immediately dispelled the darkness that he may have been dealing with.
Our Chanukah flames remind us that we too ought to fight the darkness in our children and in ourselves by igniting the same bright flame, of love, faith, and hope. Darkness will then immediately vanish.
In the words of the saintly Chassidic Master, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: “A little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness…”
Lesson Six: To Shine Is to Forgive and Forget
I’ll never forget that day.
As a young child, I remember being glued to a TV set in Johannesburg where my family resided, on that momentous day of February 11, 1990. Nelson Mandela had just been released to freedom after 27 years of torturous imprisonment.
Toward the end of the day, a journalist approached Mandela and asked him: “Don’t you feel any resentment toward your country and its government for oppressing you and your people for so many years?” Without hesitation, Mandela responded: “Resentment? Not at all! Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
The lesson is clear: if we cannot let go of the bitter experiences of our past, we become bitter. If we cannot say goodbye to the heartbreaks of yesterday, we cannot welcome the joys of tomorrow.
Take a look at your Chanukah flames and you will notice that they too refuse to pause, look back, and dwell on the past. Instead, they direct themselves solely upward and toward the future, in order to fulfill the purpose for which they were created: to shine and brighten the world.
And so, if someone, or something, is pulling you back, learn from your Chanukah candles, forgive, forget, and shine your light. The world, and G-d, are waiting.
Lesson Seven: To Shine Is to Thrive in Darkness
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds,” Albert Einstein once said. Indeed, name a hero of humanity, and history will name you his or her oppositions and setbacks.
In Jewish history alone the examples are innumerable. Abraham, our forefather, was called to leave the comfort of his birthplace and undergo ten trials, yet he revolutionized the world with the belief in one G-d. Moses refused to ignore the cries of his people, and in spite of the many challenges he faced, he assumed the role of his nation’s supreme leader and he rescued them from bondage to freedom. Rabbi Akiva was deemed ignorant and illiterate and he was disowned by his father-in-law, yet he dedicated himself to Torah study, and he became one of one of Judaism’s most illuminating teachers.
The resilience of these models, and their knowledge that the greatest success stems from the greatest challenge, affirmed their loyalty to their inner calling and turned them into beacons of light to their surroundings.
So too it is with our Chanukah flames. Darkness does not faze them. Quite the opposite, darkness excites them as it causes them to glow with even more vigor.
So next time you face a challenge, address it with a mighty light. As our Chanukah flames teach us, you are sure to overcome it, and your light will triumph and shine.
Lesson Eight: To Shine Is to Dream Big
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning, an English poet, once wrote.
If we were to study our Chanukah flames we would discover that their reach also exceeds their grasp. But our flames never despair, as they tirelessly aim to ascend and take off and reach the heavens.
This trait to dream and aim impossibly high is a trait of all shining luminaries, from Chanukah flames to history’s heroes.
Abraham dreamed of healing the world with monotheism, Moses dreamed of leading his people into the promised land, and Isaiah dreamed of the Messianic times.
Interestingly, this is also the reason we celebrate Chanukah by lighting an additional candle every night. For one cannot be satisfied with the lights and the illuminating dreams of yesterday. Every day must contain a new and brighter light.
So what new light will you bring to the world, today, more than yesterday, but much less than tomorrow?