The photo was taken December 1, 1931. The text on the back reads:
“Chanukah 5692 (1932)
‘Death to Judah’
So the flag says
‘Judah will live forever’
So the light answers”
Just as I was contemplating this year’s Hanukkah message, I received an email from a friend. In the middle of her letter was this one sentence: “Standing up after we fall,” it read.
For obvious reasons, the line stuck with me. Although there are many different ways to ‘fall,’ it certainly feels like this entire calendar year has been an exercise in getting back up. Because we must; the essential truth about hard times is that, as long as we have the confidence that things will improve, we can make it.
Back in 1931, when that picture was taken, nobody could have known how far and how deep the world would fall. Compared to that, what we are experiencing today is a very small stumble. That does not mean it is not awful. This is no small bump in the road for the relatives of the 1.34 million who have perished worldwide. Let’s let that number sink in for just a second. Repeat it slowly to ourselves. Can we even imagine it?
So, what do we do? What do we tell ourselves as we light these candles? What is it that we hope to learn, to gain, from the flames?
‘The light answers,’ it said on the back of the photograph. Perhaps we can be that light. Maybe we can see that flame, not as an external source of light, but as something that lives within us. A bright spark, a Ner Tamid, that we work to keep lit, especially when it’s difficult. How do we do that?
“I choose to focus on a different meaning for the notion of a ‘little sanctuary,’ not a physical structure but a spiritual state,” Rabbah Arlene Berger wrote. “We as individuals become the little sanctuaries that carry God’s presence around. There is godliness within all of us, a fact that many of us forget on a regular basis. Once our lives revolved around the Temple. Today our spirituality, our souls, live and die together based on the communities that we form and on the caring that we give to one another.”
Berger is, of course, talking about the original Temple in Jerusalem- not our own synagogues, which currently sit empty but to which we will, G-d willing, soon return. However, Hanukkah is by definition a holiday that is celebrated in the home. When we light our candles, let’s think of not only of the oil that burns in front of our eyes, but also about the light that burns within us. It may flicker and sputter now and then, but we will not let it burn out. Until there is a vaccine, we will perhaps fall a little more. Eventually, though, we will stand back up. May the light within us help us get there.