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Flicker of light chases away the darkness

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When you think of the word “light”, what comes to mind? Brightness? Warmth? Clarity? Soulfulness? Joy? Vibrancy? How about all the above?

Light can mean many things to many people depending on the context. Or to put it a bit differently, your view of light will be formed by your current battle with darkness. The meaning of light will be personalised to the light you are seeking at this moment.

Are you struggling with darkness of mood? Then the light you seek is the light of joy. Are you at a crossroad in your life and the decision is overwhelming? Clarity is the light you seek. Feeling lethargic and uninspired after a rough two years? Then you’ll conjure an image of vibrancy when thinking of the word light.

We are looking for a unique light that will illuminate our dark shadows.

Chanukah is the holiday of light. That’s its theme and message. Our sages tell us that “a little bit of light pushes away lots of darkness”. Chanukah is the holiday that brings that personal and universal message to the forefront.

That’s why Chanukah is a big deal. A really big deal.

And the greater the darkness is “out there” or “in me”, the more we need to embrace the miracle and meaning of light.

One of the Chassidic masters put it this way: you’ve got to listen to what the Chanukah candles have to say! Because they are talking to you. They are telling a story.

Try it. Light the menorah starting on Sunday night, and then sit for a few minutes in front of the candles, and look deep into the flame. There’s something mesmerizing about fire. Whenever a fire is lit, whether Chanukah candles, Shabbos candles, or a bonfire in the forest, you’ll see the eyes of young and old turn towards the flame.

The dancing little flame tells an inspiring tale. A tale of the heroic Maccabee warriors, and of the courageous Yehudit; of the menorah’s flames that burned for eight days; and of courageous young boys and girls who learned Torah in spite of the danger of being exposed to the antisemitic Seleucid Greek empire which ruled Israel two thousand years ago.

It tells me that light is much more than merely the absence of darkness. It’s proactive. It’s the courage to run forward. The tenacity of believing in the blessing of life, no matter the challenge.

It’s at this point of writing that I’m informed of the murder of my dear student, Eli Kay, in Jerusalem. The terrorist took the life of a saint. Just too much, too much. I leave the screen.

Twenty-four hours later, the funeral just concluded, I have a deadline for this piece. And Eli wants us to bring light, I tell myself.

But now, I’m no longer talking about theoretical darkness. This is real darkness. A darkness that’s all consuming. It’s so thick, it can be processed by more than just sight. You can smell it. You can touch it. It rings in the ears. The bitter taste lingers and lingers.

And now I must get back to the keyboard and write about light. Suddenly the challenge of Chanukah is personal, calling upon me to dig deep to find my jug of pure oil.

There’s a part within us that can never darken. The spark that never becomes cynical. The purity that can never be contaminated. And I must discover it. I must be a Maccabee.

You see, there is a Hellenist inside my heart that wants to see me break, that wants me to give up on searching for the soul and rather focus exclusively on whatever pleasures of the body I can get my hands on. The voice of nihilism. The energy that follows the laws of gravity, pulling me down.

But I’ve got a Maccabee within me. I can defy gravity. I can discover the faith. The faith that accepts that the human mind cannot comprehend the wisdom of the Almighty. The faith that finds no incongruity between faith that He is in charge and knows what’s best, and at the same time challenges the divine with “Ad Mosai?” (Until when?) How much longer can your children live in so much pain?

And in the same breath, I jump right back into the light. I remember that the light I need now is the light of optimism. The light that says, “The best days of our lives are ahead of us!”.

When I light the menorah and look into the candles, I will look for the light of the beautiful souls that were taken from us this year. I will shed a tear for those lights that now burn brightly in heaven.

And then I will look again. And I hope to see a reflection of my own soul dancing. I will see courage. I will see love. I will see vibrancy. I will see the beauty of this beautiful country, South Africa, that I feel blessed to live in. I will see the streets of Jerusalem alive with song. I will see the promise of redemption and of better days.

And I will smile. A smile so wide, it will drown the dead weight of sorrow and bring my head back above water to behold the dawn of a new day.

  • Rabbi Levi Avtzon is the rabbi at Linksfield Shul.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Sue Jackson

    Nov 28, 2021 at 12:07 pm

    What an inspirational message . Speaks to the heart of what it is to be human, the pain, sorrow, joy . To answer our call to live & light our own flame. Thank you Rabbi Avtzon

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