Shabbat Chanukah ~ Unity in Dark Times

Miketz falls most often with Chanukah. Can you find darkness and light in the Torah portion?

~ It took full two years for Yosef to get out of jail. It takes about 200 years for his bones to be buried in Eretz Israel. Yosef, in a way, is the symbol of hope in dark times.

תנו רבנן מצות חנוכה נר איש וביתו

והמהדרין נר לכל אחד ואחד

והמהדרין מן המהדרין בית שמאי אומרים יום ראשון מדליק שמנה מכאן ואילך פוחת והולך ובית הלל אומרים יום ראשון מדליק אחת מכאן ואילך מוסיף והולך

The Sages taught in a baraita: The basic mitzva of Hanukkah is each day to have a light kindled by a person, the head of the household, for himself and his household.

[How many candles in total for chanukah?]

And the mehadrin, i.e., those who are meticulous in the performance of mitzvot, kindle a light for each and every one in the household.

[How many candles in total for chanukah?]

And the mehadrin min hamehadrin, who are even more meticulous, adjust the number of lights daily. Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagree as to the nature of that adjustment. Beit Shammai say: On the first day one kindles eight lights and, from there on, gradually decreases the number of lights until, on the last day of Hanukkah, he kindles one light. And Beit Hillel say: On the first day one kindles one light, and from there on, gradually increases the number of lights until, on the last day, he kindles eight lights.

[How many candles in total for chanukah?]

~ Which of the possibilities outlined in the Talmud do we follow today?

נר איש וביתו - נר אחד בכל לילה ואיש וכל בני ביתו סגי להו בנר אחד:

A candle for a person and his house - One candle on each night: for one person and his entire household it is sufficient to have one candle.

והמהדרין - אחר המצות עושין נר אחד בכל לילה לכל אחד ואחד מבני הבית:

The meticulous - about mitzvot. They light one candle every night for each and every person in the household.

והמהדרין מן המהדרין משנים בסדר הנרות מיום ליום. ונחלקו במהות סדר זה בית שמאי ובית הלל. ...

The meticulous of the meticulous - they change the number of candles according to the day, per person in the household. And the order of doing this is where Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagree...

In a sense Chanukah candles are like the Shema: there are few things which we can see and say "all Jews do this the same way." The Shema and Chanukah candles are among those few things. They are the symbol of our collective hope.

...מצותה משתשקע החמה עד שתכלה רגל מן השוק ...

... The mitzva of kindling the Hanukkah lights is from sunset until foot traffic in the marketplace ceases...

עד שתכלה רגל מן השוק ועד כמה אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן עד דכליא ריגלא דתרמודאי:

The expression until foot traffic in the marketplace ceases is mentioned here, and the Gemara asks: Until when exactly is this time? Rabba bar bar Ḥana said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Until the foot traffic of the people of Tadmor [tarmodaei] ceases.

רגלא דתרמודאי - שם אומה מלקטי עצים דקים ומתעכבין בשוק עד שהולכים בני השוק לבתיהם משחשכה ומבעירים בבתיהם אור וכשצריכין לעצים יוצאים וקונין מהן:

The foot traffic of the tarmoda'ei - They collected sticks of wood and remained in the marketplace until the workers in the market went home after darkness fell and then they lit [fire] in their homes and when they need wood they go out [again] and buy from the tarmoda'ei.

How dark is dark, in terms of the maximum time for mitzvah of lighting chanukah lights? Very dark. This is when everyone has stopped working and is back home. The tarmudai are those who still hope someone will come out of their homes to come and purchase wood. They are the ones who hope despite seeing all dark, and everyone went home. It is when those who hope despite all the darkness and solitude surrounding them - when they go home, that's when you give up lighting chanukah candles. Before that, you are still obligated to light.

This applies to Chanukah candles, and this applies to our relationships with ourselves, and this applies to the relationships we have with each other, and this applies to the world.

From our parochet
נֵ֣ר ה' נִשְׁמַ֣ת אָדָ֑ם חֹ֝פֵ֗שׂ כָּל־חַדְרֵי־בָֽטֶן׃
The lifebreath of man is the lamp of the LORD Revealing all his inmost parts.

Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, the Gerer Rebbe (1847-1905)

It is written: “A lamp [candle] of the Lord is the soul of man, searching out all the belly’s chambers.” [Prov. 20:27] The Talmud notes that searching requires a candle. One candle from another. “I will seek out Jerusalem with candles.” [Zeph. 1:12]

Sanctuary and Temple are found in every one of Israel, as Torah says: “I will dwell within them [betocham].” [Ex. 25:6] These are present insofar as a person makes it clear to himself that all of life-energy comes from the soul. Thus we say each day: “The soul that You have placed within me is pure...” This means that there is a certain pure place within each person, but it is indeed deeply hidden.

When the Temple was standing, it was clear that all life-energy came from God. ... But even now, after that dwelling place has been hidden, it can be found by searching with candles. The candles are the mitzvot; we need to seek within our hearts and souls in order to fulfill a mitzvah with all our strength...

Especially at this season, when lights were miraculously lit for Israel even though they did not have enough oil, there remains light even now to help us, with the aid of these Chanukah candles, to find that hidden light within. Hiding takes place mainly in the dark; we need the candles’ light to seek and to find...By the power of inwardness we can find the hidden light within all our own hidden chambers.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe (1902-1994)

My father-in-law reported this conversation with his own father Rebbe Sholom Dov-Ber, then the Lubavitcher Rebbe:

The hasid asked: Rebbe, what is a hasid?

The Rebbe answered: A hasid is a streetlamp lighter.

In olden days, there was a person in every town who would light the gas streetlamps with a light he carried at the end of a long pole. On the street corners, the lamps were there in readiness, waiting to be lit. A streetlamp lighter has a pole with fire. He knows that the fire is not his own, and he goes around lighting all the lamps on his route.”

Today, the lamps are there, but they need to be lit. It is written, “The soul of man is a lamp of God,” and it is also written, “A mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light.” A hasid is one who puts personal affairs aside and goes around lighting up the souls of Jews with the light of Torah and mitzvot. Jewish souls are in readiness to be lit. Sometimes they are around the corner. Sometimes they are in a wilderness or at sea. But there must be someone who disregards personal comforts and conveniences and goes out to ignite these lamps with his or her flame. That is the function of a true hasid.

Hannah Arendt, from Men in Dark Times, 1968.

"Dark times," in the broader sense I propose here, are as such not identical with the

monstrosities of this century which indeed are of a horrible novelty. Dark times, in contrast, are not only not new, they are no rarity in history, although they were perhaps unknown in American history, which otherwise has its fair share, past and present, of crime and disaster. That even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given them on earth... Eyes so used to darkness as ours will hardly be able to tell whether their light was the light of a candle or that of a blazing sun. ...

May this Shabbat of Chanukah, which is also Rosh Chodesh, may it renew us completely, reminding us that our duty to seek spreading light and hope remains despite darkness, and sometime, because of it. May we light our own souls, other people's souls and the world. Shabbat Shalom.