Today is the last day of Ḥanukah and Erev Christmas. Kwanzaa begins the day after Christmas. I love this holy intersection. It is natural for humans to hold festivals of light during the darkest time of year. The stories that we make up about why we hold these festivals are important, too. They reflect how our cultures bring light to the darkness.
Reb Mimi says that Ḥanukah is about that one drop of holy oil in each of us, and whether we believe in it enough to light it. Despite all the darkness, all the doubt, all the confusion and despair and disbelief, we all have one pure drop of oil left for our lamps, stashed somewhere in the basement of our temple. At this time of year, when it’s so dark, we have to ask ourselves whether we’re brave enough to light that last drop.
It gets dark every year, but the darkness affects us so strongly that we’re tempted to notice it. “Wow. It’s dark this year.” It seems like many, many people are noticing the dark this year. I sure am. It makes me grateful that Ariel and I have made a home where we could light the ḥanukiah each night. For both of us, whether for spiritual, social, or merely pragmatic reasons, it was the first time in several years.
She brought back a Ḥanukah teaching from school this year that the most important principle of Ḥanukah is pirsumei nisa, publicizing the miracle — that is, the light. That’s why we place the ḥanukiah in public view from our home. Ḥanukah is a time for coming out, of showing ourselves in resistance to the darkness and encouraging others to stand with us. The world needs us all to give light, or else the darkness will defeat us. The rabbis taught that pirsumei nisa was so important that we should put everything on the line for it.
Speaking for myself, there’s still much more I could risk for the sake of driving away the darkness. But it all begins with the first spark. And as soon as we lit that first light in our home, the light grew and spread and lit up the darkness for eight whole days. The year’s return to light begins here, in the darkest time. Our festivals of light are combining to light up the whole world. NASA can see it from space!
Whichever festival of lights is yours, I wish you ever-increasing light. Don’t let it go out.
The day before the first night of Ḥanukah, the 24th of Kislev, is also my grandfather’s yahrtzeit. Lloyd Kupferberg, ז׳׳ל. When he died in 2005, that was Christmas Eve. He is the person who lit the first light of Jewish consciousness in my life. He would be proud to see how long the light has lasted.