We're Done With the Darkness. It's Time To Go Home.
Late on Tuesday night, I sat in the hospital room rocking chair holding our son. He's barely a few hours old. I looked at his calm, pure face and thought about the miracle of Jewish continuity, of the immense kindness of Hashem.
I thought about the overwhelming privilege and awesome responsibility that Hashem has bestowed upon us; to help this beautiful Neshama to become an Eved Hashem and Ohev Yisrael.
I thought about the countless neshamos that Hashem brought in this world in different and far more painful times. The souls that came to illuminate and elevate the darkness. I am filled with gratitude that our generation is so blessed. It seems to me that our we and our children have not been tasked with the worlds of darkness.
Despite the obvious and plentiful challenges of our generation, it is unquestionable that our lives are far, far better than any of our ancestors. This truth certainly makes for a more comfortable existence. But I won't deny that there have been times I have wondered if perhaps our lives might be a little more meaningful if we were living in more challenging times.
Please, don't get me wrong. Of course, none of us would ever want to be the victim the murderous anti-semitism of our history. But we cannot deny that our ancestors felt the pulse of Yiddishkeit rushing through their veins in a way we might never. When someone wants to kill you because you are a Jew, you know that Yiddishkeit is something to die for; and thus, something to live for.
When the ancient Greeks outlawed the study of Torah and the observance of Shabbos, Jews felt alive every moment that they learned Torah. I would imagine that no one slept through the clandestine Halacha classes in their secret desert cave Beis Medrash.
Today, even the most hardened of our enemies couldn't care less if we learn Torah and observe Shabbos. Sure, they hate the State of Israel, and plot our national annihilation. So we feel the mesirus nefesh of young men and women serving in the IDF. But the rush of adrenaline coursing through our veins when every mitzvah is an act of defiance? That we have not felt in decades. In the big picture of Jewish history, the stakes of our observance, engagement and interest feel pitifully inconsequential. Of course, this is not true. We know that each of our mitzvos has immeasurable effects in all worlds. We just don't feel it in a palpable and tangible way.
We are not living in the darkness of Jewish history and so appears our Tafkid, the role of our generation is not to illuminate the Darkness. We are not the Jews who will be finding meaning and purpose in surviving the death camps, or giving our lives Al Kiddush Hashem rather than bowing to the cross.
On the flip side, however, we are clearly not living in a generation of serenity, peace and light. Our world is still fractured, painful and challenging in a myriad of ways, and we are a far cry from the Glory days of the Beis HaMikdash. We do not have cultural sovereignty and prophetic leadership. We feel neither able nor empowered with the mission to inspire humanity to acknowledge Hashem and His morality.
Counter intuitively, a meaningful and purposeful Jewish existence can be derived either from the world of darkness, or from the world of light. We live in neither. Our world is neither day nor night, neither darkness nor light.
All of this means that in the deepest way, our generation is the generation of Chanukah. The Eretz Tzvi of Koziglov explains that the lighting of Neros Chanukah is unique amongst the mitzvos – it is performed neither in the day, nor at night. Chanukah lights are kindled specifically and intentionally during Bein HaShmashos, between sunset and nightfall (שיטת בה״ג, ר״ן, גר״א). They are not designed to illuminate darkness, but the space between light and darkness. The place of doubt, of fading lights, of tired dreams, of chronically unfinished to-do lists.
Chanukah addresses the world of inconsequence – the tragic reality that most of our lives feel unremarkable. Of the hundreds of thousands of pictures we take, a tiny fraction are worth ever looking at again. And the same is true of our days, years, minutes and seconds. Truthfully, it is difficult to remain positive, optimistic and motivated in the face of such overwhelming meaningless. And so we don't feel the need to try – unless someone is threatening our lives. Chanukah gives light to a time when things are fine. Relentlessly and unremarkably ok.
Before we can understand this light, we should note that the timing of Neros Chanukah between day and night serves a practical purpose. Like many of the details of Chanukah, it aids in פרסומי ניסא – publicizing the miracle. No one needs a candle before nightfall; we can all make do with the last rays of the sun. By lighting a Ner before it is needed, everyone will know that it is a Ner Chanukah.
Consider for a moment the profundity of obligating Pirsumei Nisa. Every Jewish home is responsible to make sure that another Jew feels that it's Chanukah. In the hustle of the commute home from the markets and fields, Chazal insisted that we all rush home with enough time to inspire someone else to come home.
Every home is obligated to kindle a light עד שתכלה רגל מן השוק – until there is no-one left in the marketplace. Rebbe Nachman (יד:יב) explains that this is exactly the point. The goal of Chanukah is to convince us all to go home – metaphorically as well as literally.
One by one, as the lights are kindled, the Jews who are still in the marketplace will begin to wonder “What on earth am I still doing here? Everyone else is at home!” Effectively, for eight consecutive nights, our sages have instituted that we create a public display of social pressure to be at home early.
During this holiday there is no prohibition to go to work – no אסור מלאכה. But there is an obligation to create intentional distance between our careers, goals and aspirations and the reason for doing it all. Chanukah is designed to challenge us: If no one was expecting us at work right now, where do we want to be? What do we want to be doing?
The Yetzer Hara of Greece today is trying to convince us that someone else is getting ahead and eating our lunch. If we stop for a moment we'll fall behind. So we rush from moment to moment. Don't Stop. Won't Stop. Can't Stop. All the while knowing that our efforts are doomed to fail. Someone will always achieve more, earn more, get more views, likes and shares.
Chazal disagree. We don't need adversity and competition to have a beautiful and meaningful existence. We also don't need perfection. We can come home early to illuminate our streets, homes and hearts.
This is how we bridge the world of day and night, of darkness and light, of exile and redemption. This is the defiance of our generation. This is our Tafkid, our mission and purpose: living an inspired, empathetic, connected life – even without adversity.
This Chanukah, I'll ask you to daven with me, a Tefillah for our little boy and for all of us: Hashem should ensure that we never need to experience the pain and darkness of our past. And that we should never need it. These Chanukah Lights should illuminate the way home for each of us, for Klal Yisrael and the world until His light is restored to its home in Yerushalayim.