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An Illuminating Darkness

        “Wouldn’t it be nice if the days were long all year round?” commented my son at six o’clock in the evening as we sat down to dinner to the backdrop of the completely black outdoors.

 

         My high school daughter with her long school hours couldn’t agree more. “This morning I left our home in the dark, only to return once again, in the dark!”

 

         I, too, relish the sunlight and become energized by its warming rays and brightness.

 

         Yet the Hebrew months of Kislev and Tevet are characterized by their very long and dark, cold evenings. From all the months of the year, their bright daylight hours are minimal, and their hours of darkness the longest.

 

         Chanukah is called the Festival of Lights, celebrating the miracle of the lights, the cruse of oil that burnt for eight days. A more appropriate time to celebrate the bright shining candles might be in a time of year with increased light. But it is precisely in these dark months that we burn the Chanukah lights and celebrate their victory. Unlike the Menorah of the Temple (whose miracle we celebrate with our Chanukah lights), which was lit during the day and indoors, the Chanukah menorah is kindled in the dark and faces the outside night.

 

         Although by now the shining Chanukah candles have disappeared, and the menorahs have been stored away until next year, their vital message must be internalized.

 

         We may not enjoy the struggles and challenges that our own periods of darkness offer us. We don’t appreciate the pain, suffering or sorrow that accompanies such times. We yearn instead for times of light, happiness and brightness, for days that are filled with warmth, acceptance and appreciation rather than coldness, indifference and difficulty.

 

         But the Chanukah candles − that are lit precisely at this time of year, during the dark evenings, facing the cold, dark outdoors − radiate so brightly, particularly because of these dark circumstances surrounding them.

 

         The struggles and challenges in our lives are meant to kindle within us a strong, beautiful light that perhaps wouldn’t even be noticed or appreciated in the summer months of our lives.

 

         The first two letters of the word Chanukah spell chen, meaning beauty. Chen represents that aspect of beauty, which is comprised of two inverse elements reflecting each other. The opposites that form the graceful beauty of Chanukah are darkness and light, or how the darkness (choshech) is transformed into light (nehora), whose initial letters themselves spell the word chen. (From an article by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsberg on www.inner.org.)

 

         Pieces of art also interplay inverse elements to create a thing of beauty. Light with shadow is intertwined regularly to form artistic creations.

 

         At first glance, a shadow is something concealing light. But on a deeper perception, the shadow provides an important effect. Though its “illumination” is different than the revelation or the effect of the light, the shadow can enhance and highlight the effects of the light.

 

         Similarly, these dark months and the dark moments in our lives are a backdrop that must also be used positively to appreciate the light and enhance its contrast. Moreover, our challenges dare us to use the darkness in a way that it becomes transformed into something positive and constructive.

 

         Learn a valuable lesson from your challenge. Gain sensitivity from your pain or suffering to enable you to help others in similar situations. Discover an inner light and strength that you never thought was there.

 

         The message of the Chanukah lights extends well beyond its eight-day holiday and gives us strength as we head back out into the ensuing darkness. These lights beckon us to use all of our experiences − even the dark ones − as a point of growth and illumination, to radiate light to those around us.

 

          CHANA WEISBERG is the author of The Crown of Creation and The Feminine Soul.  She is the dean of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Toronto and is a scholar in residence for www.askmoses.com.  She is also a columnist for www.chabad.org’s Weekly Magazine.  Weisberg lectures regularly and welcomes your comments or inquiries at: weisberg@sympatico.caDivine Whispers – Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul by Chana Weisberg (Targum/Feldheim) has just been released.  To purchase your copy, please write to divinewhispers@gmail.comor visit your local judaic bookstore.   

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