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Sunlight Pales in Comparison

Sunlight Pales in Comparison


I've always been fascinated by the sun.

It sits roughly 93 million miles from earth – a number way too huge for my mind to even begin processing – yet its effects on our planet are profound. Every morning I awaken to find my room illuminated by this orb that, were I to be cruising on an interplanetary freeway at 60 MPH, would take more than 170 years of uninterrupted driving to arrive there. Illuminated, even though the light has to make its way through a small window and fight the blinds. And no bulb in the store, no matter its wattage, and despite the fact that it's right here, can illuminate the room in a similar fashion.

A little light dispels much darkness. An even greater and more powerful light dispels so much more darkness. The greater the source of light, the farther it reaches.

Were I to be cruising at 60 MPH, it would take more than 170 years of driving to arrive thereThis is true in a spiritual sense too: the Holy Temple is one example of this phenomenon. The Temple was permanently based in Jerusalem. But the dazzlingly brilliant "light" and holiness it radiated affected the entire world. The Temple Menorah bathed the entire world with its holy glow, causing people from near and far – such as the Queen of Sheba – to stream to the Holy Land and the G‑d of Israel. Though it was lit while the sun was still shining, and within the holy confines of the Temple sanctuary, the Temple Menorah's light was so intense and far-reaching that it pierced and scattered the powers of night and darkness.

But how about our Chanukah candles? How powerful is the light they emit.

Well, based on the criteria we've established – i.e. light's potency is judged by how far it extends – it would seem that the Chanukah menorah is nothing to write home about. The menorah is lit at a doorway or on a windowsill facing the street, symbolizing its ability to illuminate the darkness of night that pervades outside—again, both the practical as well as symbolic types.

Is the light of the Chanukah menorah so faint that it can only illuminate its immediate vicinity? And as such must be lit after dark, and in direct proximity to the darkness it wishes to counteract?

Or perhaps, the Chanukah lights are simply another genre altogether.

But first, let us examine the nature of "standard" light—even the most powerful light source imaginable.

Does light have an effect on dark? Or does it just chase it away? What happens when the sun sets in the evening? Is there some sort of delightful afterglow? Or are we just plain de-light-ed?

Most of us are acquainted with a "luminary," an individual who lights up his or her surroundingsMost of us are acquainted with a "luminary," an individual who lights up his or her surroundings. Whether it is your loving grandfather, caring rebbetzin, gentle synagogue candy man, or your exceptionally kind-hearted second grade teacher, this individual brings out the best from us. This person's overt light draws out the light inherent within each of us—and for the moment dispels the darkness that may be front and center at other times.

But this light doesn't really change anything. It just highlights the good in others – good that already exists, and will continue to exist afterwards, albeit concealed perhaps – and lulls the darkness into temporary hibernation.

The ultimate luminary is one who effects real change in others: transforming the darkness into light. Teaching and training others to take those emotional triggers that spawn feelings of anger, inadequacy, helplessness and lethargy, and channel them properly so that instead they produce passion, productive introspection and commitment to self-improvement. This is real light. Not one that is superimposed, and not one that will vanish when the "sun sets."

On most of the holidays we commemorate the miraculous appearance of an intense light that drove away tremendous darkness. When nature didn't cooperate, when the natural order produced a seemingly un-dispel-able darkness, a supernatural light was called upon to chase nature away.

The heroes of the Chanukah narrative entertained an altogether different view. Nature isn't darkness. The natural is as G‑dly as the miraculous. After all, One G‑d created – and pervades – both these phenomena. And perhaps it seemed that the ill-equipped and heavily outnumbered Jewish militia had no chance whatsoever to oust the mighty Syrian-Greek armies from the Holy Land. But the Maccabees reasoned that if nature is G‑dly, then nature could, and would, be the vehicle for the implementation of G‑dly values.

They put their lives on the line because of their belief that "darkness" is in fact light in disguise They put their lives on the line because of their belief that "darkness," too, is in fact light in disguise.

The Maccabees' sacrifice, and their profound awareness of G‑d's all-pervasiveness, elicited a G‑dly light that mirrored the effort that produced it. Not a light that sits in a holy chamber and shines away all the darkness it encounters – near and far – but a light that reveals what darkness really is.

Welcome to the Chanukah menorah.

It sits by the doorway or in the window, it is kindled at night. It is fully comfortable being in a "dark" environment. Because it realizes that the darkness of night carries the same G‑dly potential as the "holy" belly of an illuminated Jewish home.

The darkness also shines.

And when that happens, who needs the sun?

Adapted by Naftali Silberberg from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Yehuda Shurpin for December 12, 2010

Re:Temple Menorah You actually touch upon one of the key differences between the Temple Menorah and the Chanukah Menorah. While the Temple Menorah gave light to the world, it was lit indoors, and during the daytime, for it only had the power to add brightness to places that were, at least to some degree, already illuminated. But if it went completely dark, or it was something that actually opposed the light and purity, the Temple Menorah did not light it up (for example, the Greeks who not only were not 'holy' but actively opposed it).

On the other hand, the Chanukah Menorah, which was lit through the self-sacrificing Macabees, has the power to light even complete darkness. It is for this reason that the Chanukah Menorah is lit outdoors, and at night. Thus, the Chanukah Menorah is even more potent than the Temple Menorah. Reply

Anonymous New York, NY December 4, 2010

Temple Menorah The final question is a brilliant ending. I have a problem with what you write about the Menorah in the Temple. The times of the temple were mostly not 'lit' with the knowledge of G-d. In fact, during much of the temple times there were many problems among the Jews themselves (let alone the 'admiration' from other nations). Did the menorah fail to illuminate the world at those times? If they couldn't see the light with the Temple menorah, how can we with just the Chanukah Menorah? Reply

yaacova weiss Haifa , Israel November 17, 2009

Thank you I was looking for an interesting article about Chanuka to share with my students in the 12th grade . Many of them come from Russian background and they do not know much or even care much about the Jewish tradition . I believe this article will open up their eyes . Thank you and hodesh tov. Reply