As a child, I used to dread when we turned our clocks back because it meant I had less time to play outside each day. Now, I enjoy the idea of the sun breaking over the horizon shortly after I wake up in the morning, because I know that I am now able to get more time to see the stars at night.
I bring this idea of light and darkness up because, in just a few days, we will gather around our menorahs to light the first candle of Hanukkah shortly after sundown on December 10. I am so ready for my house to have the smell of latkes wafting through the air as I hear them sizzle while they are being cooked on the stove.
One tradition teaches that there was a great debate between the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel on how the menorah should be lit. Rabbi Shammai believed that on the first night of Hanukkah, we should light eight candles and then take one away each night until on the final night, we only light one, while Rabbi Hillel believed the opposite. You see, it was Rabbi Hillel who was following a general rule in the Torah that says one should increase holiness (i.e. adding one more candle each night) as the holiday continued instead of diminishing it by lighting fewer candles with each passing day.
This year, of all years, I am especially grateful that Rabbi Hillel’s idea of how to perform the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is the accepted practice we use today. With all that we have been going through these past several months, we need more light entering the world.
I love the idea that with each day of Hanukkah, our menorahs become brighter and brighter. Over the years I have looked forward, more and more, to seeing photos of friends’ (and synagogue’s) Hanukkah celebrations. They almost always showcase people crowding around menorahs after they are lit and the photos are so bright. I can only imagine what they look like in person, especially when these gatherings take place in the later stages of the holiday. The light emanating from the collection is always breathtaking.
We have the same power as those menorahs during “dark” times. Think about what it was like (before we had to wear our masks) when you smiled at someone and they smiled back. The power of a smile can light up a room and brighten someone’s day.
This Hanukkah is most likely going to feel different, feel less festive, than others we have ever experienced because we will not be able to celebrate with our friends and family as we have done in the past. So, might I suggest, that this be the year we all light one more menorah than we usually do.
And consider another idea. Take this opportunity to find a way to do something special for a neighbor, a friend, or even a complete stranger. Think about how incredible it can feel if we make a concerted effort to try and make someone else’s holiday extra special. This simple act of kindness, thoughtfulness, and goodwill can bring far more light into the world than our individual menorahs ever could because it requires more than just lighting a match and lifting it to the wick of a candle.
By doing this, you help bring about the kind of light that can illuminate the soul and that is the kind we need right now.
Jason Moss is executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater
San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.