Hanukkah: The Long Reach of a Small Light

As Hanukkah begins, what will you kindle in your life?

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Posted in , Dec 6, 2017

Hanukkah candles

Two young teenagers, David and Rebecca, hide from the Nazis in the darkness of a ruined cellar beneath the Warsaw Ghetto. One night, David returns from a scavenging trip with some badly needed supplies, plus a surprise—a single Hanukkah candle and a match.

So begins “The Power of Light,” a short story by the Polish-born Jewish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer. To me, the story is a road map of the positive—and lasting—power of light.

In the story, David kindles the candle, and the pair blinks at the squalor it reveals in their hiding place. They also see each other for the first time in weeks, and note the strength that survives in their eyes. Warmed and awakened by the light, David and Rebecca summon the courage to make their move toward safety.

“That glimmer of light, surrounded by so many shadows, seemed to say without words: Evil has not yet taken complete dominion. A spark of hope is still left,” writes Singer.

The story unfolds as the teens use the darkness of the world around them to their advantage, slipping out of the Ghetto and then out of Warsaw into the forest where Jewish partisans welcome them into their fold. Months later, they board a boat and, after evading Nazi bombs and submarines, arrive in Israel, where they grow up, marry each other and build a life. One night, as their son plays the Hanukkah game of dreidel by the cheerful light of the holiday candles, they tell a stranger (the story’s narrator) their story.

Rebecca looks up from her delicious-smelling frying pan, saying, “If it had not been for that little candle David brought to our hiding place, we wouldn’t be here today. That glimmer of light awakened in us a hope and strength we didn’t know we had.”

The lesson of this story has stayed with me for years: that even the smallest lights can have a long reach—across miles, across years, across generations. As I light my family’s menorah for Hanukkah this week, I will wonder: what courage might this flickering candle kindle? What life path might be illuminated in its reflection?

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