The world seems to have become very dark. As we enter the winter months the darkness of night encroaches upon day, stealing increasing minutes of light each week. Were we not to understand the cycle of the sun, we would fear, like the ancients, that darkness would eventually conquer the light completely.
History feels as if it is following nature, as a pall of dark events have descended upon us in the past days and weeks: the murder of 26-year-old Eli Kay, z”l, by Hamas terrorists; the killing and maiming of dozens attending a Christmas parade in Wisconsin; news of a new COVID variant that threatens to send us back to the dark days of quarantine.
I was meditating on these dim realities when I received an email from an Akiva parent. The message included a video of a rabbi on the New York subway who noticed a homeless man sitting across from him. The man had no shoes. Having just returned from a shopping trip for a new pair of sneakers, the rabbi doffed his own shoes and gave them to the man, to the applause of fellow riders.
Watching the video, I was struck that this small act of kindness was able to offset for me the aforementioned gloom, and make the world seem bright again. The man who gave away his shoes was a Chabad rabbi, and, in his actions, brought to life the teaching of Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Chabad: A little bit of light dispels much darkness.
This is the message of Chanukkah. Chanukkah celebrates the miracle of small acts of light that drive away deep darkness: a small band of fighters under Judah Maccabee were able to expel the darkness of Syrian-Greek foreign oppression; a small cruse of oil was able to bring light for eight days to the re-dedicated Temple. We commemorate these miracles by the lighting of small flames. Unlike the Havdallah candle that has many wicks and produces a blaze, the Chanukkah candles have a single wick, and one may not crowd the candles together lest they appear as a bonfire. Significantly, according to halacha (Jewish law), only one flame is necessary in each home each night. Chanukkah is, then, the holiday that celebrates how a little bit of light dispels much darkness.
Chanukkah comes in the wake of Kindness Week at Akiva. During Kindness Week, we celebrate the Akiva values embodied in our Five Promises, that every day, each person has the opportunity to brighten the entire world. Even our smallest students have the power, through an act of generosity and virtue, to dispel the darkness.
The victory of the Maccabees, the joy of Chanukkah celebrations, and the lighting of Chanukkah lamps, portend the arrival of the winter solstice, when the march of darkness ends, and light begins its conquest over darkness. So too, may we soon see a world enlightened by happiness, kindness, and virtue.
Chag urim sameach,