Jewish World Review Dec. 11, 2001 / 26 Kislev, 5762

Those Days, These Times

By Yaffa Ganz -- Winter is upon us. The nights are longer, the days shorter. I sit in front of our brass Chanukah menorah, watching the candles flicker. It's cold outside and the world most definitely does not look like a friendly place. Even the weekly Torah portion, Parashas Vayeshev, doesn't seem like cheerful reading. After all the Divine promises that his children would inherit the Land of Israel, after all of the events and trials and tribulations of the Patriarchs, Yaakov, Jacob, is finally at home, dwelling in the Promised Land, but before he has a chance to really settle down and catch his breath, Yosef is sold into slavery and the story of the Great Egyptian Exile - the prototype for all future exiles - begins.

Then there's the story of Judah and Tamar, right in the middle of the story of Joseph. Even knowing that Judah and Tamar are the harbingers of the Moshiach, Messiah, and that the story (which doesn't seem to belong here) is specifically told here (and at great length) to teach us that G-d prepared a remedy for the ills of exile even before they appeared, I still don't feel very cheerful. Maybe it's the weather; probably it's the security situation (i.e. the lack of it) in Israel, but whatever it is, my spirits are low.

The saving grace is that Vayeshev is always read right before or during the week of Chanukah. In the cold of winter, on the darkest, shortest day in the year, we begin the process of bringing light to the world. Vayeshev itself is full of Oro shel Moshiach -- the Light of the Messiah -- a parasha full of wonderful connections between Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben David (who will be from the tribe of Yehuda). However, I freely admit that it's not the scholarly learning which touches my soul, but the tiny specks of light that flicker and dance before my eyes as I sit and watch the menorah.

When I was a child, the world seemed like such a safe, loving wonderful place. The worst that could happen was some minor disappointment, but the big, the important things in life were all in order. Or so it seemed, at least until I grew older and wiser. Today, the world seems filled with disaster, drowning in disorder --- cosmic, local, national , international; political, military, economic; domestic matters, private issues, health-related problems. Just name it and someone you know is contending with it.

As Vayeshev, with its undertones of Exile and Redemption, is read, and the story of Chanukah, replete with Divine salvation, is celebrated, I sit at my window and look out into the dark night. Then I shift my gaze to the row of little lights before me. How small and vulnerable they are, yet they continue to burn, even in the darkest of days; even when Chanukah is over. For me, these lights tell not only of miraculous times that were, but of better days to come. They hold forth the promise that darkness, hatred, enmity and warfare will not prevail. "A new light will shine forth upon Zion" and we shall be its bearers.

Small flames with long memories, they continue to glow. To remind us not to lose hope, not to be despondent. They whisper that even a little light brings an end to darkness and ignites great torches of Truth and Holiness throughout the world.

As I watch the candles, I am reminded of my father z"l. He loved all the chagim,holidays, but Chanukah was his own special holiday. He lit the candles with great ceremony and splendor and affection. They were his connection to "those days, this season." He knew the Chashmonai family well; they were relatives and soul-mates. He too was from the family of Levi, and like someone at a family simcha, he was filled with Jewish joy at their shared successes and victories.

Today, his great-grandchildren fill our dining room table with their wooden, clay, metal, ceramic and bottle-top menoras - hand-made, multi-colored works of art from kindgergartens and lower grades across the Land of Israel. In addition to the fire hazard they pose (and which I take great pains to mitigate!), they emit a shower of light which fills me with hope and strength and determination. They are a celebration of faith in a faithless world; a declaration that the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not limited by "reality" (the Chashmonai revolt was very unrealistic), but that if only we do our part, our ultimate fate is decided by an all-powerful and loving G-d. So important is this particular holiday that the Rabbis tell us that together with Purim, it will never be abolished, even after the coming of Moshiach.

This, then, is the fire of Chanukah, a spark from the Holy Temple which leaps across miles and millenium to chase away the darkness of today. It is a gift of light from He "...Who wrought miracles for our forefathers, in those days, at this season..." and down to our own times. May it herald the "new light" which please G-d, will shine forth from Zion and illuminate the world.

JWR contributor Yaffa Ganz is the award-winning author of more than forty Jewish juvenile titles including the two-volume teen history "Sand and Stars --- A Jewish Journey Through Time" and the popular Savta Simcha Series. You may contact her by clicking here.


Doing Nothing
War and Peace ...
Buttons, anyone?
When visiting 'momma' is dangerous
The Price of Life
Light a candle
Sukkos paradise
True confessions
School Daze
Jewish summers --- a time lag

© 2001, Yaffa Ganz