by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
This week's Torah portion is Miketz — we are smack dab in the middle of the Joseph story, a sure sign that Hanukkah will soon begin, as we always read this portion during Hanukkah.
In addition, this week's Shabbat candle-lighting time is almost as early as it gets (next week will be one minute earlier), even though the actual shortest day of the year is weeks away.
It is a dark time of year. There can easily be much darkness in our hearts at this time — violence, corruption, climate change, ecological degradation, along with the bumps both large and small of our personal lives — all of these and more impact us even when they are not at the forefront of our minds, and when the sun sets early and the nights are long, doubts, worries, fears, and uncertainties are all the more likely to settle in our hearts.
In recognition of our very human and not-at-all unique need to kindle lights to dispel the darkness, we celebrate Hanukkah. Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav charges us to claim the spiritual power of Hanukkah, each of us for ourselves: "Kindle your own candle. Ignite your soul. Hanukkah is your story."
And so, as you kindle the lights of your candles each night, I invite you to take Rebbe Nachman's charge seriously and to find new layers of all that is good and pure and sacred within your heart and soul. As you do so, I offer you companions on your journey, eight spiritual "candles", one for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. I invite you to read, to absorb, to comment, and to share with others.
Hanukkah Day 1 – Dispelling Fear and Finding Courage
It takes but one tiny candle to dispel the darkness. It takes but one ounce of courage to dispel the fear.
Fear — sometimes our heart races, sometimes we panic, sometimes we are fully aware of our fear. Confronting a co-worker, boss, or family member about hurts or injustices, sometimes we just hold it all in and remain silent, fearful of the consequences of speaking out. Crossing a high narrow bridge over a deep chasm, bungee jumping, or walking the highwire, perhaps we just avoid such activities rather than put ourselves in a scary situation. Acknowledging that a loved one is dying, that our air and water and soil are filled with toxins, or that climate change is real and is going to change every aspect of our lives, often we refuse to face the facts before us out of fear that we cannot handle the truth.
On this first night of Hanukkah, may we gather together to light a candle of courage and dispel the darkness of fear. May the powerful light of this one candle light up our hearts and our lives, allowing us to see, to feel, and to experience the courage emanating forth from it – the courage to speak up, the courage to act, the courage to acknowledge hard truths and move into an unknown future, the courage to remember in the depths of our hearts the words of the psalmist: Adonai ohri v'yish'ee, Adonai is my light and my salvation (Ps. 27:1), to put ourselves into G!d's hands and to trust that we will find our way forward.