As I sit here across from the freshly lit chanukiot flickering in my window I feel the same sadness I experience every year on the last night of Chanukah. There is something powerful about lighting the chanukiah when the darkness first appears. It fills me with a sense of hope and warmth even on the coldest, darkest of nights and I hate to let go of that. Tonight, not only does that spark ebb away at the last night’s candles but it also marks the end of the last night of 2016 on the solar calendar.
My head is filled with thoughts and memories of my personal experiences from this past year, with ups and downs as per any typical year.
Then, there is the 2016 which the media painted as the year of doom and gloom. The American election was a painful experience. It was an extremely divisive campaign with unusually ugly rhetoric. It is hard to imagine what’s in store for America with such a divided populace. The future may seem bleak but widespread panic assures our demise. America will only succeed in having a bright future if we can figure out how to work as a unified nation. The light we need to take with us into 2017 is our fundamental spirit of democracy – an inalienable tolerance for all people and respect for the rule of law.
This year we mourned many iconic celebrities such as Elie Weisel, Nancy Reagan, Carrie Fisher, Shimon Peres, Mohamed Ali, David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen and George Michael. In a tough year, we have suffered the loss of giants in music, sports, acting and politics. For many, these people were not merely geniuses in their fields, but role models as well. With each loss, a small light has been taken from this world. Unfortunately, death is a part of life. We can be comforted by their light shining on in their work, in our memories and in our hearts. They will continue to bring joy and meaning beyond their days here on earth. Their light was like that of the “shamash” that gave to many others and can be seen even at a distance from this transient world.
Of course, we’ve been hit with terror, Brexit, the Syrian crisis, the mess that is the UN causing many to decry 2016 as the worst year ever. I must say I think that is quite an exaggeration. Despite all these challenges, history will attest that 2016 is not even in the running for “worst year ever” award.
The halacha of candle lighting on Chanukah provides us with a far reaching principle. We are not permitted to use the light that emanates from the candles for practical purpose. We are to simply see the light. Period. This is a special light endowed with a spiritual quality meant to ignite something deep inside where it can forever burn. So too with all our experiences this 2016. We can’t change history, but we can open our eyes, internalize the lessons and build on their inspiration. All the small lights behind us including the eight bright nights of Chanukah will then live on and yield a promising future.