Feeling small on Chanuka
Do you find it hard to stay lit on Chanuka? The more people I talk to, the more I hear how difficult it is to stay positive on Chanuka. Some people have had some of the darkest days of their lives when the Chanuka candles were burning. Is this some type of coincidence?
(If you don’t relate to what I’m saying here, then I guess just skip the following article).
As a kid, Chanuka was awesome! We looked forward to our presents and we loved lighting the menorah and the time off from school. But as we grew older, maybe we began to notice that although Chanuka has so much good to offer, we felt like it was hard to remain happy, and we easily sunk into a low state of mind.
(I could easily pin this on having all of our children home for 8 days 😆, but that’s true of all our holidays. There’s something different about Chanuka. What is it?)
In Tinyana 2, Rebbe Nachman teaches that the days of Chanuka are days of appreciation. Without getting into the depth of it, he goes on to connect appreciation to praising Hashem, the delight of the next world, true lovingkindness, halacha and truth. Those are some serious topics. It’s not so easy to be truly appreciative. Maybe you even say ‘thank you Hashem’ all day and night, but then something little doesn’t go your way and you get all bent out of shape. Why aren’t you appreciative then? Why aren’t you praising Hashem then? It’s because absolute truth and deep gratitude takes a great deal of work. How about true lovingkindness, even when it’s inconvenient? Or when it will go unnoticed? Not so easy then, right? And following halacha, specifically originating halacha, takes nearly complete humility. These traits take a certain amount of refinement. We don’t know too much about the next world (Olam Haba), but we know it’s called Olam Ha’emes, a world of truth. In that space, everything will finally be manifest. We won’t be fooled by our illusions and egotistic perceptions anymore.
It’s no coincidence that Chanuka comes out in the time of year when the night hours are the longest. The same way the darkness of the winter has already intensified, so too our spiritual darkness has already become overwhelming. We’re now as far as we can possibly be from Simchas Torah without spiritually collapsing, so Chazal gave us the lights of Chanuka. But the lights are so puny! A few measly lights for a half hour a night, barely three feet off the floor? That’s gonna do it?
Throughout the Hassidic writings all the Masters are talking about how holy the lights of Chanuka are. Even the Talmud asks, if a poor man only has a small amount of oil should he use it to light a Chanuka candle or a Shabbos candle? To even ask that question shows the greatness of Chanuka. What are we missing?
The same thing we’re missing is exactly the greatness of this amazing holiday. It’s true – we are so far from real appreciation of Hashem and acting with real kindness and truth. That’s why the lights are so little. We have so little of it. The darkness of our distortion, perversion and misrepresentation is crushing. We have very small keilim (equipment) to hold this strong light. But you know what? We do have a small amount of light. We might think it’s trivial, and our attempts to act kindly and live with sincerity are inconsequential but we’re dead wrong. Hashem doesn’t have our bloated complicated perceptions of reality. Hashem is truthful. He truly appreciates our struggle. He knows every time we try and He is appreciative.
We need to stare into the Chanuka lights and burn away our false perceptions of who we are. We’re not bad, and we don’t need to inflate our ego to protect others from knowing how bad we feel about ourselves. This is why the real tzaddikim chapped on to Chanuka so strongly. All the tzaddikim are geniuses in seeing the good. They see those feeble Chanuka lights and they see great torches of holiness. As we see can attest to, from past years of Chanuka, the light of truth is almost blinding. It’s not easy to go through Chanuka and stay positive. But we just need to do two things. First, we need to light one small fire and continue adding to it. Don’t try and win the game tonight. It’s a process. Start small. Appreciate the small things. And second, we need to believe in the tzaddikim. They’ve done the work. They’re gurus of seeing the good and acting truthfully. Simply believing in them and asking Hashem to help us in their merit see the good in ourselves will lift us up. This is a holiday of miracles. It’s not about what we can do. It’s about doing a little and believing that He will do the rest.