This is the season of light. Drive down any street in the neighborhood, you'll find houses lit up with colorful lights, or single candles placed in each window as a simple statement of the season at hand. We recently lit our Hanukkah candles, each night increasing the amount of light that we bring into this world.
In the Jewish tradition, fire and light possess several different meanings. For one, fire is a symbol of memorial. We light a yartzeit candle to remember a loved one, allowing that single flame to burn for 24 hours as we recall those who are no longer with us.
Fire too, however, is a symbol of hope, of belief that our world is not entirely dark -- that we as Jews and as human beings have not given up, that despite the evil that exists, there is still good in this world. A long time ago, two Jewish scholars named Hillel and Shammai argued over the specifics of lighting the Hanukkah menorah. Shammai argued that we should begin with eight candles and each night decrease the number of candles that we light. Hillel, as he normally did, argued against Shammai, believing that each night we should add another candle, rather than subtract.
One can imagine Hillel's rationale: The light in the world is not decreasing, it is ever increasing. In a sense, Shammai held a message of despair, and Hillel a message of hope. We know whose opinion ultimately prevailed.
Many of us are no doubt carrying both sides of the flame with us this morning -- so deeply saddened and shocked by yesterday's events in Newtown, and at the same time looking for just a little bit of light amongst the heavy darkness felt across our country. Some of us found this light as our junior choir sang songs of Hanukkah. I looked at them, so grateful that they were safe, praying from the deepest chamber of my heart that they will always be protected, that they will always know peace.
When my son Koby arrived at the synagogue I went to hug him and he said, "no daddy." Still, I told him that I love him even more than I normally do. I can imagine many parents did the same last night.
The tragedy is not something that will ever make sense to us, there will never be an answer to why it took place; it is true darkness, that which we cannot understand. How is it that one person has the capability to cause so much darkness? Yet, as we lit the candles the night after, we added just a little light -- the many, the teachers who rushed their students to safety, telling them that they loved them. Those reaching out to help, to console, to act. Those are the many -- the many single lights, trying to band together to shine in a very dark world.
Over the next few days, we will find any opportunity to tell our children that we love them. We will feel sad, distraught, confused, shaken and mournful for those that lost their lives. Hanukkah ended, and at some point life will return to some normalcy. Yet, it is upon us to continue to light the flames. We must not wait around for miracles. Only we can counteract the evils in our world. Only we can impart upon our children a vision of light, of hope for the future, and pray for them to find a way to actualize that dream.