One of the bywords of Jewish tradition is that a little light can overcome a great deal of darkness. The rabbis taught us that the power of good is many times greater than the power of evil, even if we are unable to witness that phenomenon as being abundantly present in our daily and national lives. This power of good is expressed through the little light that exists that has the ability to dispel a great deal of darkness.
It is therefore no wonder that the rabbis in their wisdom chose to commemorate the great victory and redemption of Hanukka by having us light little lights rather than by other perhaps more dramatic and grandiose rituals and programs. The symbol of the little light is a powerful message that communicates the optimism and resolve of the Jewish people to overcome the forces of evil in our lives no matter the difficulties and challenges of that task.
And this little light is not meant for us alone. It is to be made public, lit for all to see and observe. As long as people are still in the street, as long as there still is a public presence and discourse, we are bidden to light that small light to dispel that great darkness that otherwise may engulf us. Our little lights have been lit in almost every corner of the world over the past millennia. They have survived over all of the dark forces that threatened to annihilate us. They have proved true the adage that a little light truly can overcome a great deal of darkness.
One of the great and holy Russian Jewish refuseniks records in his memoirs his determination to light Hanukka lights while imprisoned. Since he did not have a calendar - Jewish calendars were very rare in communist Russia even for those not officially incarcerated - he was unaware as to the exact dates of Hanukka. Nevertheless he was determined to light his little candle. He saved scrapings of the meager soap allowance granted him to use as fuel and tore threads from his prison uniform to serve as his wicks. And in a cold Russian prison he clandestinely lit his little light, hidden by his body from the KGB prison guards on a night that he hoped was Hanukka.
A few years later when he reached Israel and related his story of the Hanukka light in prison, a great rabbi informed him that he had performed the mitzva in the highest and most holy fashion possible. The darkness of the evil empire that was the Soviet Union was eventually overcome by the little lights kindled in the recesses of its prisons by Jews who believed in the power of good to overcome the forces of evil. In the eyes of heaven a little light means a great deal. It displays our commitment to goodness and righteousness, tradition and holiness, and is thus treasured dearly both in heaven and on earth. It is what gives Hanukka its special place in Jewish hearts and souls.
This week the Jewish world will light its little lights of Hanukka. Many have ornate silver hanukkiot to hold those little lights. Others will make do with more simple and modest candleholders. No matter, for it is not the candleholder that is the main object in the lighting of the Hanukka fires - it is the little light itself that carries all of the weight and importance of the holiday and its holy meaning.
Once when my children were very young, I explained to them that they should not feel badly that I was using an elaborate rabbinic silver hanukkia for my Hanukka lights, while they had clay hanukkiot that they had made in school. One of my children assuaged my anxiety by saying: "Don't worry, Daddy, my candle will burn as brightly as yours does!" How correct was that statement. It is after all the little lights that count. It is they that drive away the hopelessness and pessimism that the darkness of the surrounding world thrusts upon us.
Hanukka comes to reinforce the good angels that lie within all of us. It teaches us that nothing is impossible in God's world and that evil eventually will not prevail against us. Hanukka is the right holiday at the right time for us here in present day Israel. Let us always remember that a little light can truly overcome a great deal of darkness.
The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator.