I’m not a big believer in silver linings. I don’t believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. All we really know about what doesn’t kill you is that it doesn’t kill you. And I don’t think that lemonade can always be made from lemons. Sometimes a lousy thing is simply lousy, a painful thing is simply painful and a miserable thing is a miserable thing. Period.
Having said that, and as odd as it might sound, among the new rhythms and practices in my Covid-World is lighting Shabbat candles at home. For most of my rabbinic life and for obvious reasons, candles would be lit at services in the synagogue. But since conducting services from home via Zoom, my wife Kim and I are lighting candles in our home — together with you. After services are over, the candles continue to burn for a couple of hours, and as we light the candles week after week our home somehow feels more like a home.
The first night of Chanukah is Thursday, December 10th and Kim and I will be keeping it small. But I simply don’t know how to make latkes for two! My grandmother’s recipe assumed a large and unruly brood all hankering for their gastronomic birthright. For us on Chanukah there was only one real question: apple sauce or sour cream, make up your mind! Those memories will fill my heart with light even as the lives of so many Americans are filled with the darkness of joblessness, sickness and worse. A little light goes a long, long way.
In the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, in advance of the Festival of Lights, men saved up meager scraps of fat, women made wicks from threadbare garments which were all held together by a Menorah made from a piece of potato. Together they found a way. Immediately after the war, at the Landsberg/Lech displaced persons camp, Menorahs were made from shell casings and hammered into the brass were those famous words: A great miracle happened here.
As we know so well, the third blessing on the first night of Chanukah thanks God for reaching the privilege of reaching this time, for reaching this holiday, for the joy of celebrating with one another. There is so much darkness out there. I take my lesson from those who lit candles, who brought light in the midst of the worst times imaginable. We light not only in spite of darkness, we light because that’s precisely what we Jews do in a world where a little light goes a long, long way.
Rabbi Marc L. Disick