The Hanukkah lights broadcast a simple message: you are good. Sometimes we think that if we lose our jobs, our relationships fail, succumb to addiction, or are plagued by obsessions, if we are plagued by doubts and insecurity, if we are sensitive and easily hurt, if we are manipulative and abusive, it means that we are bad. Comes the Hanukkah lights and proclaim, your actions may be bad, but you are good. How?
The Hanukkah lights celebrate the inauguration of the lighting ceremony in the Jewish Temple that was halted by the Syrian Greeks during their occupation of Jerusalem. It would have made sense for the Hanukkah lights to emulate the Tempe lights, yet they differ in many ways.
In addition to lighting eight candles, rather than seven as in the Temple, the Hanukkah lights are kindled at night, the Temple lights were kindled during the day (in the late afternoon) and burned all night. Also, the Temple lights were kindled indoors, the Hanukkah lights are kindled outdoors. This tells us that though both are candle lighting ceremonies, they are subtly but distinctly different.
The Temple was a holy house filled with light. Yet, the priests were aware that the outside was not as holy. They therefore kindled lights during the day, inside the bright holy Temple, to issue the Temple’s light outside. The message was, you are dark, I am light, and I will generously share my light with you.
The Hanukkah lights also irradiate the dark but differently. They don’t acknowledge the night’s darkness. They wait for nightfall and kindle lights outdoors. The message to the outside is this: look around, do you see darkness? All I see are dancing lights. You see, Mr. darkness, you are not dark. You are really filled with light. You are not a broken shard in need of fixing or an empty vessel in need of filling. You are whole and complete. You are good.
On the surface, the Hanukkah lights appear to be telling a lie. Yes, they use a sleight of hand to buttress their lie, but it is a lie, nonetheless. The fact is that the night is dark. The outside is cold. The only reason there is light is because you lit a candle. Let’s not play games.
However, upon deeper reflection a deeper truth emerges. We only perceive the night as dark because it exhibits darkness. If we judged a book by its cover, the night would certainly be dark. But what if the night were a cover for such an intense light that the human eye could not perceive it? What if there is a light so intense that the only way it can be issued is in a cloak of darkness?
If this is the case, the question becomes how to define the night, by its surface darkness or its inner light? The same question can be asked of the person we described above. We gaze into the mirror and are not proud of the person staring back. In our heart of hearts, we know the truth. We know our ego, greed, and lust. We know our insecurities, arrogance, and fears. We know our compulsions, obsessions, and traumas. We know how much we have been hurt and how many people we have hurt.
On the surface, we are peering into the eyes of an empty vessel, a broken shard, but is that our inner truth? Do we define ourselves by our surface truth or inner truth? Do we judge our book by our cover or by our content? Because none of these things truly capture our essence; they don’t define our inner truth.
The truth is that each of us is endowed with a sliver of G-d Himself. There is a piece of G-d in you as there is in me. As G-d is indivisible, if we have a piece of Him, we have all of Him. My essence, your essence, my soul, your soul, my truth, your truth, is a pulsating, unlimited energy of infinite goodness. It is a beauty so exquisite, music so sweet, that it melts the soul. Yes, you are good.
You are a walking, talking, breathing piece of G-d manifested in a body filled with dents and cracks. Shall we define ourselves by the container that holds us or by the soul that is us?
The Temple lights clearly defined us by our surface brokenness. Here is a person filled with problems, beset by trauma, hampered by insecurity, plagued by fears, and accosted by doubts. This is a walking talking darkness that can use my light. I will come forth from my place of light, from the sacred heavenly sanctuary, and share my light. I will issue light to a place where it was hitherto unknown and unshown.
The Hanukkah lights define us by our essence. We think we are in the dark, but we are truly aglow with light. We think that if aspects of our lives are broken, we are broken. We think that if aspects of our lives are empty, we are empty. But, say the Hanukkah lights, that is not your truth. You are a light so powerful, so infinitely grand, that the human eye can’t perceive it. You are good. Inherently, intrinsically, good.
You have unlimited potential. Don’t hesitate to take on the world. You can prevail. You can overcome. With a soul as glamorous as yours, with the infinite magnificence and splendorous majesty that is you, nothing is impossible. Your night is not dark. It dances with merry lights. And it grows brighter each night as you grow accustomed to your inner truth. One light tonight, two tomorrow; you are good.
This helps us understand a perplexing aspect of today’s youth. Historically, we measured our value by our accomplishments. If we achieved success, we had reason to boast. If we accomplished something in the world, if we made something of our lives, we had reason to feel accomplished. Today’s youth have an unquenchable sense of their own value even before accomplishing anything of significance. They might be thirty years old living in their parents’ basements and still feel that they are G-d’s gift to humanity.
I always wondered about this. I asked myself if these children are in for a rude awakening when they hit the real world. Yet, this awakening has never come. They continue to grow, and their sense of their own value has not diminished. They are not without anxiety, lack of self-assurance, or self-possession, but this doesn’t diminish their essential faith in their own value. When and why did this transition occur?
It has become prevalent because the Hanukkah light approach will be the approach in the era of Mashiach. As we approach this utopian time, its influence is felt around the world. Today’s youth define themselves by their inner truth not their outer achievements. Infinite value is not enhanced by success, nor diminished by failure—infinity can’t be diminished or enhanced. Thus, irrespective of achievements, today’s youth feel special. They feel that they are, and therefore bring, value to the world. You are good.
However, they don’t take this as a free pass. Knowing our own value doesn’t motivate us to be slovenly or to fail. On the contrary, it drives us to exhibit our inner beauty and soulful power. It drives us to translate our inner value into surface success. This is why today’s youth will be one of the most successful generations in history. It is also why irrespective of all the problems and confusions that we see in our world today, we can turn to each other and proclaim a simple authentic truth: you are good.