“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1, 3-4)
From the beginning of time the theme of light has had a meaningful role in the way we experience the world – Light and Darkness; Day and Night; Good and Bad. The light was the first to be created. It was the first thing to start a process of creation, the thing that made it possible to literally see the options for creation.
Coming from Jerusalem, I am quite used to a cold winter. As the days become colder and shorter, the combination of the cold and the darkness outside my window makes me think about what the options are to bring in the light. Chanukah is the best opportunity for that – the light of the candles and the celebrations with friends and family. The festival of lights comes right on time – the darkest time of the year.
Hillel and Shammai, the Wisemen, had a debate about the lighting of the candles. Shammai argued that one should light all the candles on the first day of the holiday, and gradually take out candles each day, just like the oil that lasted for 8 days slowly ran out. Hillel, on the other hand, argued that you should add a candle each day, and have the light increase with our celebrations (There are different reasons for these arguments). Most people, including me, follow the latter – increasing the light.
As I look around the community, I feel proud to say that the light I see is increasing, despite all the darkness that is around us (the winter and other kinds of darkness that we encounter too often). Yet I keep asking myself – how can I keep the light growing and growing?
The Jewish people are to be Or LaGoyim – a light for other people. How can I make sure that I am a light for all people?
Bringing the light can start with one person and grow to be a whole community. Let me share a few examples of this based on my experiences in Northern Virginia in the last month or two.
On October 13th, I was going back to my apartment after a Sukkot event at the Pozez JCC and a woman saw me going up the stairs with my guitar. She carefully approached me and asked me if I was a musician and could she have a minute of my time. She introduced herself and told me she is a Muslim woman, and she volunteers at a church with the Hypothermia Prevention Program, feeding and giving shelter to homeless people over the winter. She mentioned that they are looking for entertainment and programs for the crowd coming for the night and asked me if I would be willing to play music for them. My answer was an immediate “Of course!” I was moved by the opportunity I would have to bring music to a cold night. Time went by, and the lovely woman kept informing me about the date and the plan. As the day of my volunteering came on December 5th, I was more excited about playing at the church than I was for any of my performances in a long time. I felt like it was my duty to do a good job for people looking for a safe warm place for the night and that it was a privilege to be part of the volunteers and staff that evening. And all it took was the spark of one woman who was able to expand her comfort zone and reach out to a stranger and allow him to shine his light.
In the past month or so, dozens of families in our community in Northern Virginia opened their hearts and donated old Halloween costumes (whether at the JCC or at various congregations that volunteered to help) for Israeli children and youth in need. The light that we shine now in December, will shine brighter in Israel in March when the costumes reach their destination and help all those children celebrate Purim with joy. Each person who took part in this project is a small and meaningful light, coming together to shine brighter as a community by opening their hearts to lend a hand to those in need — and shining brighter yet by bringing communities together from across the globe.
On Chanukah, we sing- Kol Echad Hu Or Katan V’Kulanu Or Eitan – each one of us is a small light, and together we form a great light. This Chanukah, I look forward to seeing the light and taking in the beauty of the Chanukah candles. I am grateful to be surrounded by so many people shining their small lights, who are excited to help me, and help all of us, see the many options to create more light in the world.