Va-Yeshev / Hanukkah
For the week of November 30, 2002 / 25 Kislev 5763
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 37:1 - 40:23 and
Bemidbar / Numbers 7:1-17
Haftarah: Amos 2:6-3:8
Replaced by Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7

How Bright Are You?

The LORD was with Joseph… (Bereshit / Genesis 39:2).

It's Hanukkah again. It's a time for parties and family celebrations. It's time for latkes, donuts, dreidles, and gifts. For each of eight days we light the Hanukkiah (Hanukkah candlestick). Each night the Hanukkiah is brighter than the night before as an additional candle is lit.

(For more Hanukkah background, stories and articles, see the TorahBytes Hanukkah section).

The symbol of lit candles is so fitting. Just as the Maccabbees stood out in their day as some of the few who remained faithful to God, so the candles shine brightly against the sharp contrast of the night.

If we would light the Hanukkah candles in the middle of the day, their brightness would not be so evident. But it is not the nighttime that makes the candles brighter. The nighttime only provides the contrast through which we can more clearly see their brightness.

If life in the days of the Maccabbees had not become as bad as it did, there would have been no need for the Maccabbees to take the stand they did. That doesn't mean that they became more godly when the bad times came, it is just that their godly lifestyle became more evident once things turned so bad. The brightness of their light didn't change, the environment got darker.

The Maccabees were much like Joseph in the story we read in this week's Torah portion. The brightness of his life was so readily seen because of his dark, difficult circumstances.

There is another aspect to this. While it is the darkness that provides the contrast through which we see the brightness of the light, it is the brightness of the light that often shows us how dark the darkness really is. Have you ever been in a room as dusk approaches. The room begins to get gray, but it isn't always that noticeable. Then all of a sudden someone turns on a light and we are nearly blinded. We are shocked to realize how dark it had become without our noticing it.

We tend to get used to the level of lighting in which we live, until bright lighting is introduced. Then we realize how dark it really is.

In the days of the Maccabbees many of the people didn't think it was dark. They thought the introduction of pagan practices into their society was progress. They thought they were becoming broad-minded, modern thinkers. They didn't see that they were stumbling in the dark, stumbling into destructive lifestyles. It was much like today.

Sadly as days grow dim, there is a tendency to not want to shine. We don't want to be perceived as those who confront others with a contrasting lifestyle. We hear their reaction to the bright light, and we want to accommodate them by not shining too much.

But how much more can we dim our lights before we too become part of the darkness?

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