The holiday of eight crazy nights, as Adam Sandler would say, is almost here, and however you spell it, Chanukah is our time to light candles to commemorate … what? Yes, we know the story of how one day’s oil burned for eight nights, but what does this Chanukah celebration really mean? The kids get gifts, we light the menorah, say some prayers and play dreidel games. While our Christian friends celebrate their holiday with decorations and lights, we celebrate our own Festival of Lights.
I remember sitting at a beachside cafe in Tel Aviv a few years ago, watching workers in the distance build something — I couldn’t tell what. When I came back a day or two later, it was apparent that they were building a giant menorah on the beach.
We left Tel Aviv for a few days, and when we returned, we saw the magnificent menorah illuminating the sky and the beach. It was an awesome sight, visible from miles away. It made me want to know more about the story of Chanukah. There are stories that in biblical times the illuminations helped the Jewish people communicate. And of course, there’s the miracle of the oil. But it must be more than that, for Hashem has something to teach us in all his words and deeds.
Being a zayde, I contemplate how to make these ideas teachable for my grandchildren and children and even for adults, both Jewish and non-Jewish. My conclusion is that adding light during the shortest days of the year (which means during the longest nights) is Hashem’s way of helping us once again through the darkest times of our lives. He is there for us as a shining beacon of hope and faith. He wants us to bring light into the world, even on the darkest days.
In fact, I believe each of us is a beacon of light that shines in perpetuity: a light of love, hope and peace to share with the world. Chanukah is a symbol of the light that shines within each of us — a light we are responsible to share with the world to make it a better place.
Be the light for your family, friends and community, whether through a smile for a stranger, a random act of kindness or sharing the light of Hashem with everyone we encounter. And as you light the Chanukah candles, give some thought to those less fortunate, to those who feel engulfed by darkness. Let us show our children how the Jewish people are chosen to spread the light of Hashem for all to see.
Vito Simone is a Pikesville resident and memeber of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah.