Cast a Giant Shadow
Chanuka – the Festival of Lights. Wicks floating in golden olive oil and the mystical and mysterious flames that flicker and let their pure glow permeate our lives. Chanuka seems to touch an inner dimension of nearly everyone regardless of the level of their observance. Just look at the anticipation on the faces of all the participants whilst the Menorah is being lit! Why is that? What is it about Chanuka that makes it so captivating?
Perhaps the secret of Chanuka is that it is a festival that we can all partake of without anyone having to feel “religiously-inadequate” or ignorant. In effect, Chanuka is our “Jewish passport”. When we all light the Chanuka lights together we are uniting in a way that transcends each individual’s religious observance. We become one Nation reveling in the fact that we belong to each other.
Mel Brooks, the famous comedian and actor, wrote about his Jewish identity and the way that impacts on his professional life, “I'm sure that a lot of my comedy is based on anger and hostility. It comes from a feeling that as a Jew and as a person I don't fit into the mainstream of American society. Feeling different, feeling alienated, feeling persecuted, feeling that the only way you can deal with the world is to laugh – because if you don't laugh you're going to cry and never stop crying – that's probably what's responsible for the Jews having developed such a great sense of humor. The people who had the greatest reason to weep, learned more than anyone else how to laugh.”
What an incredible insight! It is possible that Mel Brooks does not realize that not fitting into mainstream society is exactly what we, as Jews, are supposed to do. Yes, we are supposed to enhance the world and to make the world a better place for our having been in it. And, yes, we are definitely supposed to help build the world up into a place in which all humans can feel the benefit. However, we are not supposed to be so culturally assimilated that we lose sight of who we are. That is exactly what the beauty of Chanuka is. We come together and we light the Chanuka lights because we don’t fit into mainstream society!
But there is something even deeper about Chanuka. Something so mystical, something that is so exquisitely other-worldly that it can only be represented by something as equally ethereal. The flickering flames of the Chanuka lights.
The brilliant and famed Gaon from Vilna writes that before the final redemption there will be a darkness deeper than anything else ever experienced. Accordingly, the only way that we can combat such darkness is by spreading light, small flame by small flame. And each small flame will be added to the next until there will be such a burst of brilliant light that the darkness will be dispelled for ever.
The Sages teach that the windows in the Holy Temple were constructed in an unusual way; the windows were narrow on the inside and widened out so that they were at their widest on the exterior. This was to teach us a lesson of monumental importance. The Golden Menorah in the Temple did not add any physical light to the light that already exists in this world. However, the Menorah added a new dimension to the true function of the Temple. The Temple was the meeting point of the spiritual world with the physical world, and the Golden Menorah was the point where the spiritual light and the physical light combined in order to be able to spread throughout the world. We have no Temple today, so the little Menorahs that we light in our homes every Chanuka take the place of the Golden Menorah in the Temple, and they have exactly the same effect in the spiritual realms!
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Ba’al haTanya after the seminal work that he authored and one of the towering personalities in the world of Chassidism, was once asked why it was that thousands of followers streamed to Liadi to learn Torah from him but the local townspeople did not seem to pay very much attention to him. Rabbi Shneur Zalman answered that a candle can illuminate an entire room, but there is one place it cannot illuminate – the shadow that it casts. The people of Liadi were shrouded in the shadows of his great luminosity and they could not identify the light that was pouring out of him.
In this same way we are all capable and able to light up the world around us – we just need to want to. Perhaps the time to begin is now, on Chanuka by lighting the Chanuka lights, one by one, night after night. And, by doing so we are attaching ourselves to the myriad of Jews around the world who are doing exactly the same thing. And the more candles that are lit, the more the darkness will be driven back. And, who knows? Perhaps we can generate enough light between all of us to dispel the darkness entirely!
Winston Churchill, the mythical British prime minister said, “A nation with no past is a nation with no future”. And I say that a nation that has Chanuka is a nation that has both a past and future!
So, let’s cast shadows, all of us. Because if we cast shadows it is because we are truly generating light.