Darkness and Light: Kislev after Pittsburgh
ת"ר נר חנוכה מצוה להניחה על פתח ביתו מבחוץ אם היה דר בעלייה מניחה בחלון הסמוכה לרה"ר ובשעת הסכנה מניחה על שלחנו ודיו אמר רבא צריך נר אחרת להשתמש לאורה ואי איכא מדורה לא צריך ואי אדם חשוב הוא אע"ג דאיכא מדורה צריך נר אחרת:

The Sages taught in a baraita: It is a mitzva to place the Hanukkah lamp at the entrance to one’s house on the outside, so that all can see it. If he lived upstairs, he places it at the window adjacent to the public domain. And in a time of danger, when the gentiles issued decrees to prohibit kindling lights, he places it on the table and that is sufficient to fulfill his obligation. Rava said: One must kindle another light in addition to the Hanukkah lights in order to use its light, as it is prohibited to use the light of the Hanukkah lights. And if there is a bonfire, he need not light an additional light, as he can use the light of the bonfire. However, if he is an important person, who is unaccustomed to using the light of a bonfire, even though there is a bonfire, he must kindle another light.

הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ שֶׁאָנוּ מַדְלִיקִין, עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַנִּפְלָאוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת וְעַל הַמִּלְחָמוֹת, שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה, עַל יְדֵי כֹּהֲנֶיךָ הַקְּדוֹשִׁים. וְכָל שְׁמוֹנַת יְמֵי הַחֲנֻכָּה הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ קֹדֶשׁ הֵם וְאֵין לָנוּ רְשׁוּת לְהִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בָּהֶם, אֶלָּא לִרְאוֹתָם בִּלְבָד, כְּדֵי לְהוֹדוֹת וּלְהַלֵּל לְשִׁמְךָ הַגָּדוֹל עַל נִסֶּיךָ וְעַל נִפְלְאוֹתֶיךָ וְעַל יְשׁוּעָתֶךָ.

We kindle these lights on account of the miracles, the deliverances and the wonders which thou didst work for our fathers, by means of thy holy priests. During all the eight days of Chanukah these lights are sacred, neither is it permitted us to make any profane use of them; but we are only to look at them, in order that we may give thanks unto thy name for thy miracles, thy deliverances and thy wonders.

Rabbi David Seidenberg

To speak in theological poetry, the darkness of the Shekhinah is the womb-space that gives birth to the world. The Zohar calls Shekhinah the “beautiful maiden that has no eyes” — meaning, having no light of her own, nurturing us by feeding us darkness, mystery, yearning.

This is the darkness in which the seed begins to grow and the baby starts to form, in which mycorrhizal fungi weave together with plant and tree root to nurture each other. Darkness is the Earth, that brings growth and sustenance to all. If we ever needed to honor darkness, it’s now...

So what should we be teaching about the “festival of lights”? If darkness nurtures the light, then Chanukah is a time when we are planting seeds of light. That is what the tiny flames of the Chanukah candles really look like, after all.

And that is the actual experience of sitting and watching the candles. No one sits in front of the menorah thinking, “I can’t wait for these candles to grow so bright that there’s no more darkness.” Darkness is the condition that makes the candles beautiful and sweet. We can understand the meaning of Chanukah starting from that experience, rather than from some unintentionally dualistic, Hellenistic ideology that looks to expel darkness. Chanukah should be a celebration and savoring of the darkness, as well as an appreciation of the turning of the light.

אמר רבא פשיטא לי נר ביתו ונר חנוכה נר ביתו עדיף משום שלום ביתו נר ביתו וקידוש היום נר ביתו עדיף משום שלום ביתו בעי רבא נר חנוכה וקידוש היום מהו קידוש היום עדיף דתדיר או דילמא נר חנוכה עדיף משום פרסומי ניסא בתר דאבעיא הדר פשטה נר חנוכה עדיף משום פרסומי ניסא:

Rava said: It is obvious to me that there is a fixed list of priorities. When a person is poor and must choose between purchasing oil to light a Shabbat lamp for his home or purchasing oil to light a Hanukkah lamp, the Shabbat lamp for his home takes precedence. That is due to peace in his home; without the light of that lamp, his family would be sitting and eating their meal in the dark. Similarly, if there is a conflict between acquiring oil to light a lamp for his home and wine for the sanctification [kiddush] of Shabbat day, the lamp for his home takes precedence due to peace in his home. However, Rava raised a dilemma: When the conflict is between oil for a Hanukkah lamp or wine for kiddush of Shabbat day, what is the ruling in that case? Does kiddush of Shabbat day take priority because it is frequent, i.e., it is performed every week, and there is a principle: When there is a conflict between a frequent practice and an infrequent practice, the frequent practice takes precedence? Or, perhaps the Hanukkah lamp takes precedence due to publicity of the miracle? After he raised the dilemma, he then resolved it on his own and he ruled that, in that case, the Hanukkah lamp takes precedence due to publicity of the miracle.

One day, a student asked the rabbi: Rabbi, I know that to be Jewish is to have a special role, a special job in the world. Rabbi, what is my job as a Jew in the world?

The rabbi, never one to answer directly, looked at her students and said: Friends, what is the most important job in the world?

President of the United States! Someone shouted. Prime Minister of Israel, said another. Someone even said: Rabbi! Clearly, he was trying for a good grade. Firefighter! Doctor! Teacher! Artist! Teacher! Parent! The answers came from all corners of the room.

The student looked at the rabbi and said: But Rabbi—what is the right answer? What is my job as a Jew in the world?

And she said: Once upon a time, long before ipads and iphones, before TV and streaming, even before there was electricity—there was a person in every town who was responsible for lighting up the streets. On the streetcorners, lamps sat—ready to be lit each night as the sun began to set. And there was one person whose job it was to walk from street to street, from lamp to lamp, with a flame he carried at the end of a long pole. Each evening, the rabbi said, this person would walk her route, lighting each and every lamp—no matter how cold it was, or how hard it was to reach.

But, what if the lamp is in a desolate wildnerness, far from everything and everyone, one of the students asked? The rabbi answered: Then, too, it must be lit. And what, asked one of the students, if the lamp is in the middle of an OCEAN!! The rabbi smiled and said: The one must put on a bathing suit, jump into the water, and light it there. Without it, she said, there would be no light.

The student looked again at the rabbi and said: Rabbi, I still don’t know the right answer. What is my job as a Jew in the world??

The rabbi looked at her students and said: You can be anything that you want to be. But no matter what you decide to do with your life, you must be a lamplighter on the streets of the world.