What is darkness? For a simple definition we can define darkness as the absence of light.
If you follow the lunar calendar you know that Thursday night is the dark moon, where the night sky will appear free of our celestial night light. Our sages’ believe the 5th night of Chanukah is the darkest night of the year. As the new moon of Tevet transits the cosmos, this night is the darkest it can possibly be, and the days have some of the fewest amount of sunlight we experience all year. This year, in 5782 and 2021 respectively, the 6th night of Chanukah our source of light, the sun, will also be hidden during a solar eclipse, making the 5th and 6th nights darker than most other Chanukah nights.
So what is the Jewish answer to combat physical and potentially spiritual darkness? To get together and create fire. To eat deep fried food and warm us up from within. To be whimsical for a moment, and spin. To turn an Idaho potato into yumminess we call latkes. And if you’re like me and like to dress up your latke with sour cream and Cholula, it’s even tastier. On Twitter, Sriracha was suggested to complement latkes, and I must say I agree wholeheartedly with Tema Smith
How come I never think to make this potato delicacy the rest of the year? Because the sun is out? Temporary loss of seasonal memory? Is it because I want to feel fit for a bathing suit in summer and care less about my looks in the Winter? Or is there something deeper that makes this latke taste extra delicious this time of year?
It’s definitely cold outside, hot food on hot days doesn’t deliver the same satiation as hot food on a winter day. By the 4th night we might begin to feel partied out, cleaning wax, preparing oil, now the joy has turned into a chore! More dishes, more powder, more cleaning. We might doubt we are doing it right, and maybe our doubt deepened, are we even on the right path? We set off to ignite our dreams and they don’t seem to have lifted off yet. Should I abandon the plan?
Instead we are instructed to do it again! Rinse and repeat!
After 4 cycles, by the fifth night, we can experience even greater happiness than the previous 4 nights combined, and reach simcha [שמחה], an anagram of chamesh [חמש], the number five. My 7 year old insisted on setting the candles of our Chanukiyah independently, and proclaimed “I’ve done this for days already, I’m an expert!” If I were to spend all night in attempt to convince him otherwise, we would argue endlessly and I would not win, he possesses infinite conviction! We should all have this level of confidence that when we are pursuing what is truly our passion and it is aligned with our truth, and our actions ignite us from within, then we are on the right path. Even if it appears we failed 4 times, try a 5th time. We may have taken the wrong turn, and we should keep going and attempt it again a 6th time with the confidence of a 7 year old.
It might appear like the universe is demonstrating its version of hide & seek, the moon is hiding from us, and the sun is hiding behind the moon. We should not view this as a darkness, but as the precursor to increased joy! Every parent should revel in the thought that even the sun needs a 3 hour break! Darkness on the horizon means something tremendous is being birthed!
Everything great requires a moment of dark, and double the dark nights means we are capable of doubling our joy on the 6th night and experiencing ששון. If the source of our night light is extinguished on the 5th night, and the flames of our source of light, the Shemesh [שמש] appear extinguished on the 6th, we need to persevere and say I am here! This is why we say “Bazman Haze” [בזמן הזה] when lighting Chanukah candles. Not then, but right now! To light candles is to be in the present moment, to eat something that might fatten us physically but satiate us spiritually because we're gathered together. To take it slow, but to be building greatness. Five of us can achieve 100% success with 20% of the effort, and six of us, will do an even greater job! We will transcend whatever it is that worries us, knowing that even if we feel we temporarily lost our source of energy, it is going to be right back. We can reignite our own extinguished flame simply by being in the present next to someone who is also in the present. Wishing everyone reading a warm, enlightening and spiritually meaningful Chanukah!