Stars do not eliminate the darkness, but rather mitigate it; do not turn the world into a palace full of light, but rather find ways to shed light in places that would otherwise be consumed by absolute darkness. In a similar vein, we ought to be wary, to say the least, of the fantasy that human beings can somehow remove all darkness from human life. Such notions are chimerical at best and unimaginably dangerous at worst. But we can … we must bring light into otherwise abandoned places, to bring flashes of meaning and companionship to places otherwise overrun by heartache and devastation.
What does all of this have to do with Hanukkah? Think for a moment about the central ritual act that marks this holiday. It is winter now: the days are getting shorter and shorter, and attendantly, the nights are getting longer and longer. Pesach and Sukkot begin in the middle of the Jewish month, when the moon is full. But Hanukkah is different: it begins on the 25th of the month, when the moon has all but completely disappeared. We are in one of the darkest periods of one of the darkest months of the year. All around us is darkness. And what do we do? We light a fire. Not a bonfire, but a small fire – now one, now another, and so forth for eight nights. In other words, we do not pretend to be the sun, but only stars. We do not bring an end to darkness, but soften its effects.
“The soul of man is the lamp of G-d,” the Book of Proverbs tell us (20:27). What this means is that ultimately, our task is not to light candles, but to be candles. We have the potential to be the bits of light that help bring G-d back into a world gone dark. As the Sefas Emes puts it in discussing Hanukkah, “A human being is created to light up this world” (Hanukkah, 1874).
~ Rabbi Shai Held
The soul of man is G-d’s candle.
May it be Your will, my G-d and G-d of my ancestors, to be gracious to me and to all my family and friends – to give us, and all Israel, a good and long life. Remember us with goodness and blessing, and grant us salvation and mercy. Grant us abundant blessing, and fortify the places we call home. May Your Presence dwell among us and may we be blessed with wise and kind children, lovers of G-d who stand in awe of You, people who speak truth and spread holiness. May those we nurture light the world with truth (emet) and mercy (hesed, rachem, chanan). May Your light, reflected in these candles, surround us always and shine through us into a dark world. B’shem Mashiach Yeshua (in the name of Yeshua the Messiah) Amen.
The fullness of Biblical mercy is revealed in a combination of three Hebrew words:
- Rachem – the Hebrew word most often translated as mercy in the Tanakh. Related to the Hebrew word for womb, rachem is a tender, protected place where life springs forth. To live in G-d’s rachem is to live in G-d’s womb.
- Hesed – a Hebrew word most often translated as loving-kindness but also at times as mercy. Hesed is relational mercy, covenantal faithfulness and love.
- Chanan – the third Hebrew word translated as mercy. It touches on mercy in the context of pity, forgiveness, and grace.
* Note from Cindy – I took the liberty of making modifications to an adaptation by Nurit Shein and Sue Levi Elwell of a traditional Shephardic tekhine** (found in The Sephardi Haggadah, Jonathon Cohen, ed., Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers, 1988.)
** Tekhines (from Hebrew teḥinnot – “supplications”) are Yiddish prayers from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.