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Bright Darkness

Friday, 30 November, 2018 - 1:04 pm

Starting tonight we will light candles for ten days.

Yes, I know that Chanukah starts on Sunday evening.

And, I am aware that Chanukah is observed for 8 days, not 10.

But, this year, tonight is Shabbat and Chanukah starts on Sunday. So, tonight we will light Shabbat candles. Tomorrow night we will mark the end of Shabbat by igniting the flame at Havdalah. And on Sunday night, we will commence kindling the menorah for 8 days.

Although they are separate events, I think there is something symbolic in the 10 consecutive days of light we are blessed with this year.

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To gain some perspective, let’s look at this week’s parsha, Vayeshev.

In a nutshell, it tells of the story of Yosef being sold – by his brothers – into slavery in Egypt. His brothers are jealous of his father Yaakov’s favoritism toward Yosef and are appalled at Yosef’s arrogant dreams. Slavery gives way to imprisonment. Through it all Yosef finds success and – in next week’s parsha – is promoted to viceroy of Egypt.

Yaakov was obviously a bright and pious man. Why did he display partiality to Yosef? Perhaps he didn’t realize it would cause such a drastic response, but surely he could have surmised it would cause a rift. Was Yaakov in need of a ‘Parenting 101’ course?

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There are many ways to look at this, but I’d like to explore a more mystical approach.

We live in a causal and linear universe. The cause always precedes the effect. But, imagine for a moment that you were privy to the future. With foresight, might you choose a different course of action? Many would choose a course of action that leads to a different effect. However, say you had no choice to alter the future – only to prepare for it. What would you do?

Seen from this perspective, we can appreciate Yaakov’s attitude on a totally different level. Yaakov knew that Yosef was destined to languish in Egypt as a slave and prisoner. How could he best prepare Yosef for such dire circumstances?

According to this thinking, Yaakov indeed “loved Yosef more than all his children.” He spent more time with him, studying and showering him with gifts. He left no stone unturned to fortify his son with the ability to overcome the challenges that lay ahead.

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One of the central themes of Chanukah is defeating darkness with light and sharing the light. We light the menorah in the evening symbolizing the triumph of light and holiness over darkness and evil.

If one is walking in darkness, it’s difficult to overcome the darkness. We need light. If we are fortified with light, we can enter the darkness and prevail.

Before we can shine the light to transform the darkness we need to internalize the light, to fuel the fire within.

On Shabbat the candles are lit indoors – meant to provide light, warmth and peace to the home and family.

At Havdalah we light a torch to carry the tranquil spirit of Shabbat into the chaotic energy of the week. We chase away the turmoil and gloom, empowering us to deal with the challenges of the week ahead.

On Chanukah, however, we take it to the next level. We light the menorah facing the street. Our goal isn’t just to survive the darkness and turmoil. Rather, we aim to transform it.

After we internalize light and holiness on Shabbat, prioritize it at Havdalah, we are now ready for Chanukah, when the darkness begins to shine.

Shabbat, it turns out, is a great preparation for Chanukah.

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