Eytan Saenger

Harnessing the Moments of Light to Guide Us forward

Photograph of the author's chanukiyah from Binghamton University

These days, every Jewish gathering, sermon, or event seems to begin with an acknowledgment of the ongoing conflict in Israel and the increased hardships of being a Jew around the world.

Make no mistake, we find ourselves in trying times, so the need to address it is understandable. But I also feel that this urge stems from something more than just our external struggles as Jewish people. It comes from a larger internal issue that many of us grapple with which ties into the holiday of Hanukkah.   

Humans tend to enjoy having control over the things in their lives. Yet the one aspect which we as people seem to lack the most control of is the movement of time and the evaporation of the moments we find ourselves in, both good and bad. 

This is the larger issue I am focusing on. Part of why this moment is so difficult is the uncertainty regarding the correct reactions and emotions in response to everything going on. We fear moving on from the atrocities too quickly, losing sight of the bigger picture of everything that is occurring. Are we doing enough to address the persistent elephant in the room? Is it acceptable to be joyous? 

But while contemplating how to deal with the clouds of darkness, we also contemplate the ability of ourselves to make the most of moments of light, which we have also seen. It is here that I believe the idea of Hanukkah emerges.

The message of Chanukah, an often-repeated cliche, is widely shared within the Jewish community and beyond as being the holiday of light overtaking the darkness. While that is certainly a message of great importance that should be spread, I fear that it leaves out the second part of the miracle which is crucial to note. The first miracle was the fact that no oil was found at all. The second miracle was the fact that oil which was barely enough to last for one night lasted for an extra seven nights. 

Yes, we should emphasize the need for more physical and metaphorical light to illuminate the world, but not for the first night, the second night, or even the eight nights of Chanukah alone. Rather we must harness the light and hold on to it for as long as we can. In the famous debate between Hillel and Shammai over whether to light in decreasing fashion or increasing fashion as the nights’ progress, we hold by Hillel.  He states that we should light the candles each night in an ascending manner just as we rise in holiness and do not decrease.  We should always strive to increase the light each time with minimal decrease.

Amidst loads of darkness and difficulty over these past months, a beacon of light has emerged whether it be in Israel, the United States, or elsewhere in the world. We have seen the unification of people like never before. The mobilization of volunteer efforts would have been hard to imagine just weeks earlier.   The empathy and care shown for those experiencing so much grief and fear instantly warms the heart.

Drew Angerer | Credit: Getty Images

These flickers of light have ranged from large movements to personalized efforts. One of these moments was the November 14th March for Israel which I have the privilege to attend.  The ability to stand alongside almost 300,000 people on the historic National Mall was like nothing I have ever felt. The experience felt as if I was in a movie, surrounded by a sea of random extras. In this case, they were not random people nor were they extras. They were people I felt safe and comfortable next to.  In standing together we had the opportunity to, even just for a couple of moments hear a different type of noise. The sound of unity and connection bellowed across the historic grounds. It was a moment, the likes of which I wish I could have stayed immersed in for a continuum. 

The potential to experience these moments of positivity and just move on is certainly very high, but we cannot let ourselves fall into that trap that we are so inclined to do. We must maintain sight of the moments of light and ensure that we continue building off of them as time progresses. It is up to us to clear space for the good that exists in the void, while also pushing away the bad which will help both mentally and physically. I believe that we can hold space for remembering and acknowledging the difficulties and darkness while allowing for moments of brightness to illuminate the pathway forward.

Moments in our lives are like the oil that was not supposed to last longer than the first night. But if we can harness the ability to make our moments and flames last longer and build off the preceding moments then we can move the chains of positivity forward.

As Chanukah nears its unwelcome exit, we must tightly grasp the joy of the holiday and have it power us forward so that we can continue to live proudly as we are. Let the emergence of unity, care, and responsibility which we have seen consistently exist apart from the darkness that initially prompted it.

About the Author
Eytan Saenger is a first-year student at Binghamton University. He previously spent a year at Yeshivat Orayta in Jerusalem, and graduated SAR High School in Riverdale, NY where he is from. Eytan has had a podcast, written articles, and interviewed people related to politics and Judaism and has a weekly parsha insights chat. He has also previously interned for the American Jewish Committee(AJC) and done various political work.
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