By Rabbi Eytan Kenter, Kehillat Beth Israel
With a five-year-old and an 18-month-old, the time that I wake up in the morning is largely not of my own choosing. Yet, even when I can wake up on my own, we are still in the most depressing time of the year, when we wake up in darkness and return home from work in that same darkness. Shabbat starts earlier and earlier as it grows cold, snowy, and dark.
This annual reality can serve as an apt metaphor for the challenges that we all too often encounter within our world. Whether it be the problems of climate change or increased tribalization and polarization, there are immense problems that we are encountering and the fear of their growing impact permeates within us. These huge global problems can’t help but worry us and the darkness of hopelessness and fear for the future can, all too often, consume us.
But then, as the end of December approaches, something remarkable happens: the light begins to return and days start getting longer. It is not a coincidence that Chanukah, the festival of lights, falls at this time of year. Not only is the lighting of this candelabra our attempt to remember the miracle of the oil from the story of Chanukah, but it also serves as a reminder, that light can and will return in the face of great darkness. While the situation looked bleak for the Maccabees, they were still able to be victorious. So too, can light overcome darkness in our lives as well.
Martin Luther King Jr. taught, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” No matter how dark it may seem, light can overcome it. No matter how bad our problems may seem, our light and our love can face it, if we are willing to do what it takes to fight back. The Maccabees didn’t simply hope for a better future, they made it happen. They stood up against seemingly insurmountable odds, and with God’s help, were able to win the day.
There are days when I fear the challenges we will face in the years to come will be too difficult to overcome. There are times when I worry that it is already too late to change course, that the darkness has already overwhelmed us. But then I remember the story of Chanukah, then I remember that lighting of the candles in the face of the creeping darkness. If we can find the love deep in our hearts. If we can reclaim the dedication and commitment of the Maccabees. If we can remember that light can always conquer the darkness, we know that the better future we need is still possible. Through our hard work and dedication (literally the meaning of Chanukah), we will be able to repair our world. It is never too late and it is never too dark. As long as every day we add a little more light, one candle at a time, we can once again take pride in returning the world to where it ought to be. One light, one act, and one person at a time.