Oh Hanukkah, oh Hanukkah, come light the menorah …
As Hanukkah approaches, we light those lights, doing our best to make each night just a bit brighter. We’ve heard all the expressions: “A little light pushes away a lot of darkness.” Or: “In these dark times, we need to show the world how to be bright.” My favorite one is, “Be the light you want to see.”
I like that one. That resonates with me. I want to be the light.
Do I want to be the light or do I want to be the candle? When we say (Hanukkah) light, are we referring to the illumination from the flames, or the heat, or the warmth? Does it matter? In this case, the light is in fact a flame of fire, fed by oil or wax; however, fire, while bright and warm/hot, can also the source of great destruction and devastation. Perhaps “being the light” means being good light or flames. Flames that heal and help, not flames that destroy and hurt?
Fire is a mixed bag in that way. We thank G-d for the fire that He gifted us when we bless the Creator of flames during Havdalah on Saturday night. Yet in California or Israel and other places, those same flames, when misused wreak total havoc on land and lives. (I just read somewhere that ISIS is encouraging their followers to light forest fires wherever possible.)
Some people, like some fires, are loud and bombastic. They do create light and noise, but even though they are generating heat and illumination (or sometimes its elimination that they generating) they are not necessarily creating healthy light. It is often the blinding destructive kind and not the healthy kind. They are not being the candle; they are not being the light.
Sometimes, you can create a lot more light, quietly and efficiently. Sometimes bigger is just not better.
There is an ongoing debate of power vs. influence. Which is more valuable and important: Power typically meaning “might” and “strength” can be used for both positive and negative. A powerful person can affect change in a way that a weaker person cannot. However, a powerful person can also misuse that strength to force their will on others. A powerful person can use their strength to crush and destroy others.
So too with influence. To have the ability to influence another is a great gift, which can be used and misused. To be an influencer for good makes you both great and powerful, and if used to lead others astray, is, well strong but bad.
Perhaps this may be what it means to be the light. The Shehechiyanu blessing we say on the first night when we light the candle, Boruch Ata …. Shehechiyanu V’kiymanu V’higiyanu L’zman Hazeh. Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion – is more than just expressing gratitude for arriving at this moment. It is being grateful for being worthy of this moment! Otherwise, it is a blessing that has been said in vain.
Everyone has the ability to be powerful and influential. We all have light and warmth to share. We need to simply decide how we are going to unleash it. Will it be soft, influential and enduring? Or will it be destructive and temporary?
Those forest fires that ravage California each year are mighty and strong, but they will never be remembered as being beautiful and wonderful. They are powerful but mercilessly destructive.
Being the light means accessing the inner resources that we have within, and using them to make us both powerful and influential in a kosher way, in a helpful way, in a healing way. Then, and only then am I the light. And you can make a bracha on it.
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman leads Alevy Chabad of Peabody Jewish Center.