As the story goes, a young reporter came to interview Thomas Edison about his attempts to invent the light bulb and asked him, “Mr. Edison, why do you persevere with this endeavor, after failing seven hundred times to make it work?”
If Edison was discouraged, it was not apparent.
“Young man,” he replied, “you have got it all wrong. I have not failed seven hundred times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those seven hundred ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is the only holiday we celebrate for a miracle that took place in the land of Israel (BCE). It is also the only holiday celebrated for eight days universally – for Jews living in Israel and outside of Israel.
On Chanukah, we relive the story of the Maccabees, who defeated the evil Syrian Greeks after they ransacked the Holy Temple. The Maccabees found only one cruse of oil with the seal of the high priest in the Temple, enough to last only one day. Yet, miraculously, it lasted eight full days. In response to this miracle, we light candles for eight nights, beginning with one candle on the first night and an additional candle each night.
What lesson can we derive from this holiday, besides eating latkes and donuts and playing dreidel?
When God created the world, the very first thing He did was to create light. The commentaries ask, “Why was light created first?” Light serves only as a medium so that man can see, and man was created on the sixth day. So why create light on Day One?
Even if one argues that plants need light for photosynthesis, those species were not created until Day Three. Finally, the light that was created at the beginning of creation was hidden for the righteous in the world to come, so why create the light and then hide it?
These questions may be understood by considering another question:
What is the first thing one needs in order to build a home? No, it’s not a contractor or an architect or an interior decorator. It’s a vision, a goal. One first needs to know the kind of home one wants to build. Is it a one-story ranch style home, a three-story Brownstone, a colonial mansion, or something completely original and futuristic?
Similarly, before God created the world He put forth His goal, His vision for all humankind. That vision is the vision of light – to permeate the entire creation with the light and knowledge of God. As King Solomon tells us, the candle represents a mitzvah, and the light refers to the knowledge of Torah.
When one studies Torah and performs an act of goodness and kindness, he becomes a Godly conduit to illuminate even the darkest places of the universe. This is the message of Chanukah – to bring the light of God and the warmth of Yiddishkeit to dark and cold wintry nights.
The goal of light on Chanukah has one more dimension: the importance of progress. Chanukah reminds us that what we have accomplished today is not sufficient for tomorrow. For as long as Moshiach has not yet revealed himself, there is more work yet to be done. For this reason we do not light eight candles for eight nights; we light one candle the first night, two candles the next night, and we continue to increase the number of candles each night of Chanukah. Even if we don’t succeed in lighting up the whole world immediately, with perseverance and joy we can make it happen.
Take your cue from Thomas Edison.