A Shining Transition

Friday, 15 December, 2023 - 6:16 am

Chanukah is often referred to informally as the Festival of Lights. (Just for the record, it is not an official name of Chanukah and does not appear in any ancient Jewish literature).  It is a time when we celebrate light over darkness. We kindle the menorah, specifically at night and specifically toward the outside. These acts demonstrate that light shall prevail over darkness.

The significance of light is evident from the very opening verses of the Torah. Light was created on the first day of Creation (interestingly, the sun, moon and stars were created on day four).

The truth is that light was not the original, default state. If you look at the Torah’s account of Creation, there was darkness and chaos first. Additionally, the way G-d programmed the world is that darkness comes first. The day begins at night, as the Torah states again and again, “And it was evening and it was morning,” – first evening and then morning.

One of the first things we do to celebrate Shabbat is light the Shabbat candles. This act is designed to bring light to a moment and space that would otherwise be dark.  We hope you will participate in this great Mitzvah today as we light Shabbat candles together as part of the Light 'em Up for Israel project.

From both the story of Creation, and the weekly Shabbat celebration, it’s clear that night and darkness comes first. It’s also clear that illuminating the darkness is a critical first step.

Why is light so important that it needs to be created on Day One? And, why does it only come after darkness? If it’s so important, should it not be the default state?

An insight from this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, may shed some light on this (pun intended!).

When Yosef was sold into slavery, he eventually became the viceroy of Egypt. His brothers did not know this. They came to Egypt searching for food and met with the viceroy.  The Torah states, “Now Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.”

Why didn’t his brothers recognize him?

The simple reason is that Yosef had ages two decades. And, they never expected their brother to be in a position of royalty.

A deeper perspective reveals that this had nothing to do with appearance. It had everything to do with mission and purpose.  The brothers knew Yosef as a very pious person.  They could not imagine that this viceroy of Egypt could be their righteous brother Yosef, since, from their perspective, it was impossible to be immersed in the mundane and remain righteous.

In reality, however, Yosef was indeed able to maintain his faith and integrity amidst the depravity of Egypt and even in its upper echelons of power. How was he able to do this?

The difference between light and darkness can help us understand Yosef’s spiritual staying power and his brother’s failure to recognize him.

When a dark room is lit up, none of the items have changed. The furniture, people, and colors all remain the same. However, they were not visible previously. As such, our interaction changes drastically. If I am unaware of an object, or oblivious to some of its characteristics – such as texture, color or shape – my contact will be much more limited. By shedding light we reveal what already exists.

Yosef’ brothers were operating in darkness. Under the guise of blackness, they could not imagine this was their brother. He was sitting right before their eyes, but they could not see him.

When we look at the world around us from a perspective of darkness, Egypt is a formidable enemy that cannot be conquered. We cower from the challenges around us. We feel inadequate.

Yet, when a light is shined, we recognize that everything in this world serves a purpose.  Even the land of Egypt cannot disrupt and quell our divine mandate.

Shining a physical light reveals the surface matter. Shining a spiritual light – by studying Torah and doing mitzvot – reveals the inner dimension of matter.

As we transition from Chanukah to Shabbat, let us remember the lesson of light. Whether it is our own homes or on the streets, light exposes focus and purpose in whatever we are interacting with.

By shining a light on our own lives – with more understanding, mindfulness and devotion – we will ultimately shine a light throughout the entire world, revealing its true purpose and goal.

Remember, the darkest part of the night is right before dawn. That day is not far away.

Happy Chanukah & Shabbat Shalom!

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