#YouWillBeFound: Extending the Chanukah Light
Sharing some lingering Chanukah thoughts as the last day of #chanukah2018 draws to a close.
Keep the light going!!
It’s the kind of morning that starts with an innocent tap of the ‘snooze’ button and quickly spirals into a maelstrom of frenzied face washing, tooth brushing, clothes choosing, and coffee brewing, which of course involves spilling said boiling hot coffee all over Outfit Option #4 (I was favoring #2 anyway). Finally dressed and clutching my caffeinated kick-start, I hastily zip my coat (ouch, snagged my chin), and, slinging my bag over my shoulder, reach into my pocket – and then my other pocket – and then my bag – where are my keys???? A few overturned couch cushions later, my panic is mounting, and I’m desperately mumbling, “please, God, help me find them and get me to work on time,” when I notice a strange, sharp discomfort in my left hand. I look down – and there are my keys, innocently imprinting their teeth into my palm. I had been holding them all along. Caught between laughing and crying, I throw the couch cushions back in their sort-of-place and run out the door, shaking my head in disbelief and wonderment at my complete inability to see that which was literally right in front of my face.
Laughing to (at?) myself the entire drive to work, I’m reminded of the joke my Rabbi told in his Shabbat morning sermon just a few weeks before:
A man is driving through Brooklyn on his way to an important business meeting. He’s left ample time to travel, search for parking, get through security and up to the floor of the office, with a brief stop in the restroom to collect himself. As he gets closer to the building where his meeting is taking place, he begins to look for parking, but there are no spots in sight. He begins to circle, drives down side streets, estimates how long it will take him to walk if he parks far away, but still cannot find a parking spot. Five, ten, fifteen minutes go by and he is still circling, searching, and beginning to sweat, watching the time he’s allotted for parking dwindle, and the hour of his meeting drawing closer. “God,” he prays, “if you find me a parking spot, I promise I’ll be better. I’ll go to services more often, I’ll call my mother once a week and start answering when she calls, I’ll stop gossiping about Mr. Next-door – anything! Please, God, just find me a parking spot so I can get to this meeting on time!” He’s barely finished the thought when, circling back around to the street where his meeting is beginning in ten minutes, he sees a car is pulling out of a spot right in front of the building. Sighing with relief, the man says, “Never mind, God, I got it!”
More than its perfect punch line, this story highlights a way of thinking that many of us fall into. It is sometimes difficult to find God in the mundane, in the natural course of the world in which He has so cleverly hidden Himself. When we are struggling, feeling lost and broken, we call out to Him, and we ask Him to show Himself in our lives. We sit in the darkness and we wait for someone to turn on the light for us. ‘Where is God?’ we ask, as our lungs breathe, and our heating works, and our business deals go smoothly. We wait for open miracles, complaining that we cannot find Him when He is right in front of our eyes, even in the smallest of ways. On this last, 8th day of Chanukah, this message becomes crucial to internalize. The holiday of Chanukah commemorates the tiny jug of oil that the Jews found in the aftermath of their incredible, miraculous victory in their battle with the Greek army. The jug they found had enough oil to last for one day, but famously, the oil lasted for eight days, which was enough time for more oil to be processed, purified, and delivered to the Temple. Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen, a 19th century Chassidic sage from Lublin, Poland, asks an important question about the miracle of the jug of oil. If the oil the Jews found was enough for one day, then in truth the miraculous part of the story involved the remaining seven days that the Menorah stayed lit. If this is the case, shouldn’t the holiday of Chanukah last only seven days, since only seven of the eight days were really miraculous? Rabbi Tzadok explains that the Rabbis who found the jug of oil and subsequently instituted the holiday of Chanukah were men of deep understanding; they recognized that just as the oil lasting for extra days was miraculous, so too the entire phenomenon of oil burning to fire and giving light – even for one day, or one second – is a miracle, eclipsed by the natural world in which God has hidden Himself.
On Chanukah, we reveal that “natural miracle” of light, and we are called upon to search ourselves, to search our lives, for the ways in which God is constantly revealing Himself to us. It is not always easy to see, for we are rushing, running, consumed with what we must do, achieve, accomplish. We look at our planners and think only of how WE are going to check the items off of our to-do lists; maybe, when there is a hiccup in our plans, we start to pray. But if we are to tap into the essence of Chanukah and its incredible light, we must pause to notice the extra within the ordinary, the miraculous in the mundane. Whether it’s finding our keys, or a parking spot, or finding the right words to have a difficult conversation, each of these tasks is made of myriad processes that, when broken down, require a series of small, natural miracles. God is constantly allowing our oil to burn, and He allows it to seem natural, expected, and normal. But the holiday of Chanukah was established for eight days, not seven, to inculcate in us on a personal and national level the idea that, for those who are looking, God can always be found in the smallest, most natural of places. On this 8th day of Chanukah, the light we’ve kindled this past week need not be extinguished; we are challenged today to bring the light of Chanukah with us into the rest of the winter, into the mundane and routine of our lives. Find Him in finding something you’ve misplaced, in opening your eyes to that which is right in front of you. As Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, known as the Kotzker Rav, used to remind his students: Where is God found? Wherever you let Him in.