At 6:04 a.m. I admitted defeat. I could squeeze juice out of a rock sooner than I could cough out a string of words. For two black hours I’d shifted my gaze from book to computer screen before emailing my editor: “Sorry, no Parshah article this week.” Why did I ever think I could write?!

The words in the book were informative but not inviting. I circled around them but couldn’t find an entrance passage, and my fingers ran dry. In the Torah I saw a story of an ancient hero, but I couldn’t see the story of me.

His response came at 9. My resignation was not accepted as easily as I’d hoped.

“How about something on Chanukah?”

I prepared to reopen the book, to once again face alienation. This time I read the Rebbe talking about the menorah. And about writer’s block.

If you could crack open the shell, the Shabbat meal would look like spiritually charged light rays bouncing into the homeEvery Jewish action, he explains, has a shell and a soul. The shell is the instruction to fulfill: what to do, where and when to do it. Slice two challahs on Shabbat, in your home, and say a blessing. Flip the prayerbook to page 119 and recite these words in the afternoon. But if you could crack open the shell of the rituals, you’d see an unadulterated soul. The Shabbat meal would look like spiritually charged light rays bouncing into the home. Turn any mitzvah inside out and you’ll see a light—an active and energetic light that gravitates towards darkness and looks to shine in every black corner.

Turn any mitzvah inside out and you’d see . . . a menorah. Streams of light. The menorah has the gift of transparency, her shell is her soul—her physical qualities merely project her metaphysical existence.

We connect to G‑d by kindling a flame. While we increase the menorah’s flames each night, the metaphysical light that is created also gains energy and potency. The menorah wants to be lit at night, just like her inner light that has an affinity towards darkness and always seeks to illuminate where there is no other light available. The menorah has no façade—its essence is exposed through its ritual.

Kindling the Chanukah menorah is a magnificent gift that we received from G‑d after fighting for our freedom from Greek dominion. The Greek imperialists were vicious in their attempts to wipe out the Jewish spirit and silence us into submission. While they forbade the study of Torah under the threat of death, many Jews ignored this threat and risked their lives in order to hold onto the Torah and G‑d’s commandments.

This type of sacrifice and commitment is kind of like hanging onto a rope that is shaking violently. It takes enormous focus and a very tight grip to keep hanging. With no external support, all of the strength needs to be internally generated. The Jews who stood up for their beliefs in spite of the Greek dominion had to wring out every last ounce of strength and commitment to fight for their freedom. They pressed themselves to pull out any small drops of internal oil to fuel their battle.

Well, those drops were quite precious to G‑d. They fueled a miraculous victory against the overwhelming Greek army. So proud was G‑d that He too provided a few drops of oil that fueled light for many more days than was expected.

The menorah was born from struggle and commitment. A challenge is like a thick and opaque shell that seems devoid of hope and of light. But ironically, it is the commitment in the face of challenge that generates a very tender, powerful light that will paint the shell transparent, and the shell will mirror the light within it.

On the Shabbat of Chanukah we read from the Torah the story of Joseph’s rise to power—this because the story of Chanukah is also the story of Joseph.

“It came to pass at the end of two full years . . .” when Pharaoh had his fateful dreams.

Joseph was languishing in prison. The fittest were surviving and abusing the righteous, and the light was no where to be seen.

But Joseph remained committed to light. And then one day the light jumped aliveBut Joseph remained committed to light. And then one day the light jumped alive.

In one day Joseph went from being a prisoner to being second to the King of Egypt. Like a coil that’s pulled tightly and then released, the power that Joseph exerted in his dark prison cell projected him all the way to the king’s inner chambers.

In my own small way I know that dark cell too well. When all I see are the letters and words, but I can’t hear the music behind them. And the light that pulls the lone details into a luminous tapestry is obscured.

But here is the Rebbe’s take: if you keep knocking at the door of the shell, you may extract light that is so deep that it will turn the shell itself transparent.

You may extract a menorah.1