On Hanukka, turning toward darkness

On Hanukka, turning toward darkness

Hanukka always comes at the darkest time of the year. We light the first light, with the nights still very long. Hanukka teaches us to courageously step into darkness, with faith that this is often the most direct path to light.

As a rabbi, I have learned the power of just sitting with someone who is suffering in a dark place. Nonetheless I also know that moment of hesitancy that delays my resolve to call or go to visit someone in pain. The truth is such moments require so little. They are 80 percent showing up and listening, 15 percent knowing to be quiet and refrain from saying anything untrue, and, at most, 5 percent wisdom or advice. I leave such moments with more hope than I entered — enlightened. So I push myself to step into the darkness.

The same is true when facing challenging conversations with family, friends, or coworkers. When I fear that someone is angry at me, I can be quite good at deferring the conversation. But when I face these dark moments in a relationship with a small push, I leave the conversation gratefully with more faith than I entered it. No, it doesn’t always end easily, but the bright light of facing the anger or the pain is clarifying. 

The lights of a hanukkia in a public window start small and increase in quantity and brightness. What a powerful choice to declare at the darkest time of year, that one small act, the flame from one small candle, is enough to take us through dark times. 

What makes a moment dark? Being in pain without hope, experiencing suffering with uncertainty of relief, the despair of circumstances that are beyond our ability to impact or change. Whether praying for healing or trying to guide a child through a challenging moment or confronting political dysfunction, facing darkness means facing our limited ability to change the world. When it comes to influencing the actions of others, healing disease, stopping natural disasters, combating prejudice — our ability to create change is often incredibly finite. But with courage can find an ever increasing capacity to turn toward those dark places. It is its own small miracle that by not turning away from darkness somehow the light increases, allowing us to take responsibility for the narrow places where we can act.

This effort produces disproportionately brighter light. Each faithful effort, like each candle on a hanukkia, brings a little more light and that light inspires us to walk more bravely into darker places. This is why it is a tradition to light our candles in our windows. We know the power of a little light to spread and multiply its impact on others.

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