Dispelling the Darkness
Once there was a Jew who was afraid of the dark. “Tell me, Rabbi, how can I chase the darkness from the world?”
The Rabbi thought for a moment, took a broom, and handed it to the Jew. “First you must go down into the deep darkness of the shul’s cellar. Go and sweep the darkness out of the cellar.”
The Jew carried out the Rabbi’s advice, but before long, the Jew returned. “Rabbi,” he said, “I swept and swept, but the darkness did not budge an inch!”
The Rabbi nodded and murmured sympathetically, “Darkness can be stubborn thing.” Next, she reached into her desk drawer and took out a ruler.
“Take this little stick and drive the darkness out by beating it.”
So down the dark stairs the Jew went with the ruler. But he soon returned and told the Rabbi, “Beating it did not chase away the darkness!”
Next the Rabbi suggested that the Jew shout and scream at the darkness to frighten it away. Once more, down the stairs he went, but yelling savagely at the darkness did not work either; it only made the Jew’s voice hoarse.
Exhausted, frustrated, he made his way up the stairs, tired and afraid, and approached the Rabbi again. This time, the Rabbi took out a candle, lit the candle, and led the Jew back down the stairs. And it was a miracle! For wherever the light’s glow met the darkness, the darkness evaporated before their very eyes.
“We dispel darkness,” the Rabbi said gently, “Not by sweeping gestures, or by violence, or by loud noisy cries, but by bringing a little bit of brightness to our world — together. That is the only way to dispel darkness.”
We are entering the longest and darkest nights of the year. And we know it. We are keenly aware that we are entering a winter tunnel. It’s hard on all of us. Harder for some, to be sure, but still hard for everyone.
Twice a year I join a small group of Canadian Rabbis and Bishops for learning and bridge-building. I’m grateful to be a part of this special and scholarly circle, convened by CIJA. This week I was asked to teach something from the Biblical Psalms, a shared text. I brought research which shows how the Psalmist asked: “How long?!” not once or twice, but fifteen times across ten psalms. The Psalmist’s question “How long?!” is directed Godward and almost always accompanied by darkness or night. Whether it’s the end of the day that comes too soon now or the middle of a sleepless night it seems that darkness triggers feelings of impatience, fear or anxiety in us as in our Biblical ancestors.
Moreover, the Psalmist references chesed (loving loyalty) twice as often as darkness. Chesed is referenced no less than fourteen times in these ten “How long?!” psalms. Darkness is literally overwhelmed by expressions of love and loyalty. Darkness is dispelled by the light of the relationships we keep – with fellow human beings and with the Divine.
Chanukah Innovations at Holy Blossom
This Chanukah we will celebrate acts of chesed large and small. Our Temple President Avra Rosen has initiated a new tradition for Holy Blossom. We will honour eight congregants for their extraordinary volunteerism throughout the darkness of the pandemic. They are our Eight Candles.
Just as had an on-line seder for hundreds at my dining room table for Pesach, just as we gathered by the thousands for the High Holy Days, just as we fulfilled the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah thanks to a one-of-a-kind Drive-thru Sukkah, so will we gather to fulfill the mitzvah of the lighting the Chanukah candles each night. We have acquired a new outdoor Chanukiyah. Each evening, one of our Eight Candles will have the honour of lighting it. Each evening, a minyan of ten pre-registered congregants will briefly gather at the open plaza in front of the Main Sanctuary, and of course, all health protocols will be strictly met.
To be part of the minyan which will represent the congregation, please register here. We kindly ask that you only sign up for one night, in order to make room for others. Learn more and sign-up here.
In order to join in the candle-lighting ceremony from the comfort of your home, click here.
I look forward to the impressive range of Chanukah celebrations throughout the eight days and eight nights. I hope you’ll participate and be uplifted by the joy of each occasion. Together with our acts of chesed (loving loyalty) can generate enough light that we overcome the darkness.