It was late at night. The latkes were long gone. The kids were asleep. I went and sat down to do some studying and saw my little flame still going strong. (Yes, the large glasses of oil tend to outlast the candles).
And then I stopped to think:
There's something about the LONELY FLAME on night #1 that always stood out. But it wasn't until this year that I gave it much thought. The message was clear.
One flame. Standing alone looking at all the other empty places on the Menorah.
How many people are spending Hanukah without friends or family this year? And even for those fortunate to have safe ways to see one another, we all know... it just isn't just like before.
And yet, there is also something powerful about that first flame? Look at the candle and allow it to talk to you. Does it have to feel lonely?
How many large and impactful events in our history began with just one...
In the story of Hanukah, after the Jews won the battle, they didn't stop looking for oil until they found that tiny flask. Rather than dismissing its value (I can almost imagine the cynical folks who must have said, "What's the point of lighting that measly amount of oil!"), the Maccabees believed that we must begin with whatever we have...and leave the rest to G-d. In fact, we celebrate the holiday, not on the day they won the war (the 24th of Kislev), and not on the day the oil lasted longer than it should have (the 26th of Kislev) but rather on the day they found the one bottle that started it all...
Our entire People began with one visionary. Abraham, our forefather, literally stood alone. His beliefs and values were so different from anyone else on the planet that he was called, "ha-ivri" (the guy on the other side). We are all here as Jews today because of the faith and dedication of one person.
The hero of the end of the Book of Genesis, which we read about in December 2021, is Joseph, who was as lonely as one could possibly imagine.
He was sold by his own brothers to a band of Gypsies. He then ended up in prison in Egypt without committing any crime at all. He had every reason in the world to be depressed. But he didn't sit in despair. He was going to be a single candle.
Even in the darkest of dungeons. When he saw two other inmates appearing especially sad one morning, he brightened up their day by asking how he could help. That led him to interpreting their dreams, and then the dreams of Pharaoh...and the rest is history.
Joseph’s impact on the entire world all started, because he never succumbed to solitude, and believed in the power of a single flame.
I've been blessed to have many meaningful Hanukah experiences. But most memorable is neither from my childhood nor from my married and Rabbinical years. As a 17 year old back in Yeshiva, we'd hit the streets on Chanukah, whether on foot or in a "Mitzvah Tank,” looking for Jews to whom we could give a Menorah or other holiday item.
One particularly cold Hanukah night in New York City, my friend and I stood outside a subway station in Manhattan. Business wasn't going too well. The station was quiet. After about 90 minutes of shivering, we were about to head home, our boxes of Hanukah supplies in our arms still as heavy as the moment we arrived.
Suddenly, a young boy of 10 or 11 approached us. He explained to us how he lived with his mother in an apartment just above the station. He didn't know much about his Judaism, but he would LOVE to have a Menorah. (Little did he know how happy he made us feel!)
We followed him and his mom home and lit Menorah together. We stayed in touch, brought him into a Hebrew School, and eventually Jewish Summer camp. And today, there is another proud Jewish ambassador somewhere in the world...but that journey all began with some young men whose only success of the night was giving out one tin Menorah.
We wish you all an uplifting and joyous holiday.
True, it can be challenging to stay inspired as a “lonely candle," without being able to feed off the energy of the second or third candle standing nearby.
As Hanukah concludes during the first week of December, I bless each member of our Nashville Jewish community with the strength, faith, and joy needed to be a lone candle! During those times that you feel most isolated, try closing your eyes and think of G-d speaking directly to you...lovingly telling you that "you can be a light that brings miracles into My world." And then go out and be that miracle for someone else.
Rabbi Yitzchok Tiechtel is the Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beit Tefilah Chabad in Nashville