On both Shabbos and Chanukah we light candles. While the two candle lightings emphasize our relationship with HaShem, they are different in nature. On Shabbos we affirm the fact that HaShem created the world, and we have the opportunity to reconnect to the deep spiritual yearning and love for Him that we all have inside of us (whether or not we feel it!). When we light the Chanukah candles, however, we celebrate and are thankful for HaShem’s enduring love for us- as individuals and as a nation. 1
What is the nature of HaShem’s love for us?
[Rabbi Akiva said]… Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image, as it is says, “For in the image of G d, He made man” (Genesis 9:6). Beloved are Israel, for they are called children of G d; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to them that they are called children of G d, as it is stated: “You are children of the L-rd your G d” (Deuteronomy 14:1). Beloved are Israel, for they were given a precious tool; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to them that they were given a precious tool, as it is stated: “I have given you a good purchase; My Torah, do not forsake it” (Proverbs 4:2).
Pirkei Avos 3:14
Through the light of the Chanukah candles, all the darkness of the world is illuminated. We have the opportunity to find HaShem in the very places that seem devoid of His Presence. It is there in the intense darkness that we can experience three levels of HaShem’s love:
1. We are created in HaShem’s Image. What does it mean that God created man in His Image? The word for “image” is צלם (tzelem) which refers the nature or essence of any person, animal, or thing. How is a person’s nature like God? According to the Meshech Chochma, it means that human beings have בחירה חופשית (free will)- the ability to choose emes versus sheker, spiritual light versus physical darkness. The ability to choose is what makes us special. It is this ability that allows us to reach our spiritual potential, to lift ourselves up and come closer to HaShem. No matter how far away we are, no matter how dark or hopeless it all seems, HaShem gave us the ability to find the light within us, the Divine Spark that will never be extinguished.
2. We are HaShem’s children. Though there are some parents who try to disown their children R”L, HaShem will never disown the Jewish people, His children. Through our darkest moments, as individuals and as a nation, even when HaShem has to hide His Face, He is still right there with us. HaShem “hiding His Face” means an experience where HaShem’s hashgacha is hidden, where we feel like we are at the mercy of others, the forces of nature, or even our own physical and emotional impulses. It is the experience of galus. Whenever Hashem punishes the Jewish people and sends them into galus, He personally accompanies us into that galus, As it says, “עִמּוֹ–אָנֹכִי בְצָרָה” “I am with him in [times of] trouble” (Tehillim 91:15).
3. We have the Torah. Torah doesn’t just mean the Chumash, the Gemara, and the multitude of sefarim hakedoshim that surround us, it also means the sparks of kedusha, truth, and wisdom that are contained in each element of creation and each experience that a person has. The word תורה has the same root as the words for teaching (מורה) and light (אורה). Every single Jew is responsible for fulfilling a portion of the Torah that no one else can fulfill, understanding the wisdom contained therein, and revealing this unique aspect of Godliness, or Divine Light, in the world. This process is our purpose and mission in the world and an essential part of HaShem’s Divine plan. In fact, according to Chazal, had the Yidden not accepted the Torah at Har Sinai, the world would have returned to its pre-creation state, because the intrinsic purpose and value of a Jew is based on in the Torah he is destined to fulfill.
Whenever we follow the path of Torah, we are rewarded with simcha, shalom, and brocha in our lifetime and an eternal reward in the world to come. But, when we stray from the path of Torah that is destined for us, it calls out to us, beckoning us to come back home. Included in HaShem’s Torah are all the tools, wisdom, and understanding we need to make the journey back. It doesn’t matter how dark life becomes; the light of Torah continues to shine bright for anyone who makes even the slightest effort to look.
Chanukah is a time to remember that we aren’t alone, even if it may seem that way in the darkness. At every level HaShem is right there, by our sides, guiding us along the way.