Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | December 22, 2014

The Festival of Lights

There’s an old joke about a fellow who was so addicted to golf that he snuck out of shul on Yom Kippur to play. At the course, he had the most amazing game of his life, culminating with a very difficult hole. He took a mighty swing – and got a hole in one! It was amazing; astounding!

Then a Heavenly voice boomed down to him from the sky with a chuckle: “So, who are you going to tell?”

When we do things wrong we aren’t proud of it, but today I simply must share something I did.

One Shabbos, there was a guest chazzan in shul. When I say chazzan, I don’t mean simply someone who led the prayers. I mean someone whose voice had great range, and who graciously showed us all just how long he could hold each note. Ever since my room in the Yeshiva dormitory was next to the stairwell where the boys who were into chazzanus would practice, I haven’t been the biggest fan.

So, there I was, trying to keep calm, as the davening took longer than I felt it needed to. Instead, I read one of the Parsha sheets that come to our shul each week, even though I should have been following along. (That’s where the golf story comes in.) The Torah Tavlin, written by R’ Dovid Hoffman Shlit”a, was close at hand.

I read a beautiful story of caring, about a bride who saw a mouse run across the room at the beginning of her wedding. She was sure it was a bad omen as she kept screaming and refused to participate in the festivities. She was taken to see the Steipler Gaon, R’ Yisrael Yaakov Kanievsky, in full wedding regalia. When there, he calmed her by repeatedly agreeing that it was a bad sign.

When she stopped crying, he said, “It is a bad omen, but listen to me. Chazal, our Sages, in their wisdom, have said that there is no wedding without some sort of problem. I have heard that until now everything has gone smoothly. The families get along, there have not been fights, and therefore, SOMETHING had to go wrong. This mouse was the problem, and now, from here on out, you will have a wonderful marriage and much blessing.” The calmed bride returned to an especially joyous wedding.

As I finished the story, the chazzan completed the bracha (with much pomp and vocal range) of “Yotzer Ha’Meoros,” the One who forms the lights. Normally this refers to the sun and the moon, but hearing this blessing reach its crescendo as I finished this uplifting story gave me a new insight.

True, the sun and the moon give us light, but there are so many other things that brighten our lives. What the Steipler did for this young woman was remove the darkness that hung over her wedding and replace it with great light. He helped her “look on the bright side.”

There are so many people in our lives who make our experiences better, who guide us, inspire us and enlighten our days with their caring, friendship, and insight. These are some of the lights HaShem has created to make our days bright, and we should celebrate those as well.

The miracle of Chanuka is not just that the oil lasted for eight days, but that they found oil to begin with. The fact that they found a single jug of oil was also a miracle. The fact that it was sealed with the seal of the Kohain Gadol was unusual, because most bottles of oil were NOT sealed. But HaShem knew that we were tired, downtrodden, and perhaps somewhat jaded.

Seeing that He truly cared about us, enough to send us this special sign of His affection, brightened our day and lightened our burden. It was a moment when the sun shone a bit brighter, and the stars sparkled a little more, not because of the physical light, but because the curtain of our emotional darkness had been lifted.

HaShem creates such lights every day, recreating the events of Beraishis in His great goodness. He sends them our way when we least expect them, but they are there and serve to enhance our lives and keep us hopeful. They may be friends, teachers, sometimes even our own thoughts, but they are lights, and we should, indeed, celebrate them, and G-d’s love of us, which they represent.

Like the golfer, HaShem is with each of us on our journey, every step of the way. The question we get to decide each day is whether our story will have a happy ending. When I think of those myriad lights that come in and out of our lives constantly, I think the answer is a resounding yes. A freilechen, lichtigen (happy and light) Chanuka to all!

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