The light of the day, as we shall learn from the light of Chanukah, rouses us to shine back towards it with our own light.
The community of Israel asked God: “Lord of the Universe…You illuminate the entire world, yet You command us to set up an eternal light? We are enlightened [only] through Your light, and you ask us to light candles?!”
As opposed to other Jewish holidays, Chanukah is celebrated in a less focused form. On Pesach and Sukkot, the primary occurrences take place on the first day and the last. On Chanukah however, the event is spread out over all eight days equally and we aren’t focused on one specific day. The main mitzvah of lighting the candles is not an event in and of itself providing content to the day, rather it is merely a way of counting the passing days of the chag. It seems that the days themselves are of interest, as defined units of time. We will attempt to delve deeper into the relation between man and his “day”, in light of the Chanukah candles.
From a technological point of view, “day” is a meaningless time unit. This type of outlook views time as a space that we travel through, it is as flat and faceless as other dimensions. There is no significant difference between one day and another, there is no clear border between them either - merely a completion of one spin of the globe. When the world we live in provides us with high speed communication connections to the other side of the planet, the borderlines of what a day is are further blurred, because we are faced with the different day times throughout the globe. In this type of world, what significance can there possibly be for the cycle of changing days?
But, if we return to the flow of private daily lives, we can approach a different view of days. In actuality we do not live in the plain scientific time, and our days are not ‘exactly the same’ or faceless. We evaluate our moods by good or bad days, asking “how was your day?” we go to sleep and wake up to a new day. These are not just common phrases; the way we speak expresses the simple human experience that views the changing of the day as a significant occurrence. Here we build a different attitude: the day is not an indifferent time that we just pass through, but rather it has a face, a specific character, and it ‘acts’ in relation to us.
This outlook allows us to speak of Shabbat and Chag as days with a special illumination wholly there own, that can be felt in all facets of life. The Kabbalists teach us that each day is ‘ruled’ by a different aspect of god’s attributes, one day is not like the next and we are invited to embrace this change in days. It is possible to be indifferent to the light of a specific day and disregard it, but it is also possible to keep your eyes wide open and be influenced by that day’s mood.
Furthermore it seems that the Chanukah candles elevate us to an even higher level, different then the previous one. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kosov teaches that the day not only shines to us, but also turns to us for illumination. Not only does the day have a face, but it needs us as well. Every day is an opportunity waiting to be realized, and only man can make it a reality. The light of a day is only the first level, with the duty of encouraging us to shine our own light. The day expects us to extract it from exile to redemption, to give it life with a good deed, learning or prayer. To take the power that the day bestows upon us and use it to accomplish something - that is the redemption of the day. Such a day does not idly pass but is carried on with us, as the Zohar says of Avraham - who passed on to the next world and “all his days were with him”. It is not enough to accept the day as a passing experience, we are obligated to alight with the time of light we are given.
In the Midrash quoted earlier, about lighting the candles in the temple, the lighting expresses the community of Israel’s willingness, which moves them from the position of receiving God’s light, to one of actively creating light.
Our Chanukah candles, which are in memory of the eternal lighting in the temple, direct us to such an outlook. This is the final stage in a process that is often relevant and needed: from a gray flat meaninglessness, through a position filled with experiences and feeling - but remains passive, and on to a stage in which one is creative and taking responsibility. This process is true for days as well as Torah learning: a day, like a learning experience, can indifferently pass by even if some participation takes place for some reason. The first step is to open up and receive, to experience the richness and colorful world of learning. At this point an inner connection is formed. But still it is a position of experience seeking, even if it is a deep spiritual experience. The light must be internalized, and then it is within its power to shine back at the Torah, each person according to his or her own strength, because it too is in need of our illumination and renewal.