Even for those of us who are generally optimistic, it is so easy to focus on all the “wreckage” in our lives… all the bad decisions we’ve made… all the times we’ve fallen… all the good resolutions that were never kept… all the places where we feel like we have no control. Positive change seems so far away, and we have fully convinced ourselves that there is no point in hoping that we can do any better.
The urge to just give up, give in, or disconnect can be overwhelmingly powerful, as the saying goes, we’re our own worst enemies. But, the things that are holding us back, preventing us from having the health, happiness, and inner peace we all crave, are really just an illusion.
And, it’s an illusion that can be broken, one small piece at a time.
The very first step in that process is believing that change is possible in the first place- even if only remotely possible- and that HaShem is always open to assist and reward even the slightest desire to choose good and pursue a path of truth:
HaShem supports all the falling, and straightens all that is bent
סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה, לְכָל–הַנֹּפְלִים; וְזוֹקֵף, לְכָל–הַכְּפוּפִים
Tehillim 145: 14
As Rav Dessler puts it:
...[E]ven one who is in the depths of defilement and still falling will find that God, in His mercy, will support him. If he has even one [genuine] spark of a good thought, HaShem will heal him from his dire disease and loosen all the cords with which his evil inclination has bound him, until he is able to stand on his own with hope for the future.
Strive for Truth Vol3, pg 115
Without this emunah in his ability the change and HaShem’s willingness to help him on his journey, it is impossible to break free. It’s a kind of self-inflicted disease that has plagued the Jewish people throughout history:
So said the Lord… Return now, each one from his evil way and improve your ways and your deeds… But they shall say, “It is hopeless! [Literally, “We despair”] For after our thoughts we will go, and we will do, each one of us, the vision of his evil heart.
….כֹּה אָמַ֣ר יְהֹוָ֔ה …שׁ֣וּבוּ נָ֗א אִישׁ מִדַּרְכּ֣וֹ הָֽרָעָ֔ה וְהֵיטִ֥יבוּ דַרְכֵיכֶ֖ם וּמַֽעַלְלֵיכֶֽם
וְאָֽמְר֖וּ נוֹאָ֑שׁ כִּי־אַֽחֲרֵ֚י מַחְשְׁבוֹתֵ֙ינוּ֙ נֵלֵ֔ךְ וְאִ֛ישׁ שְׁרִר֥וּת לִבּֽוֹ־הָרָ֖ע נַֽעֲשֶֽׂה
Where ever there is despair there is stubbornness, lethargy, lack of movement, and darkness. Davkah when a person is so stuck in his ways, so enmeshed in that which pulls him away from what he knows in his heart of hearts to be true, that’s when he can really begin to believe that he’ll never be able to break free.
Chanukah Lights and the Light Teshuva
But, Chazal tell us a little light dispels a lot of darkness1. What is the source and nature of that light that will push away our inner darkness?
These lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make
use of them [or “in them”], but only to look upon them
הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּּלּו קֵֹֽדֶש הֵם, וְּאֵין לֵָּֽנּו רְּשּות לְּהִשְּתַמֵּש בָּהֶם,
אֶלָּּא לִרְּ אוֹתָּם בִלְּבָּד
Why can’t we use the light of the menorah? One answer is that this light is not there due to our own efforts. It’s something that is beyond our reach; it’s HaShem’s Light.
The Zohar teaches that the source of the Chanukah light is Or HaGanuz -the hidden, awesome light with which HaShem created the world and gave us the Torah, and the same light that will eventually reappear during the days of Moshiach to usher in the end of our exile. Or HaGanuz is also the pure light of truth that each of us has inside, the Pintele Yid that can never be extinguished.
It is the light that pushes away all the internal confusion, doubt, anger, and fear and gives us the strength and clarity to believe, to persevere, to embrace positive change, and to choose life.
From this light miracles happen.
We just need to want, even in the slightest…
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel,
“My sons, open for Me an opening of teshuva like the eye of a needle,
and I will open for you openings big enough for wagons
and carriages to pass through [or like the gates of the sanctuary]
אמר הקב“ה לישראל: בני! פתחו לי פתח אחד של תשובה, כחודה של מחט,
ואני פותח לכם פתחים שיהיו עגלות וקרניות נכנסות בו
Midrash Shir HaShirim (5:2)
What this means is that for every bit of effort a person makes in an attempt to come closer to HaShem, HaShem responds with Divine favor and assistance that is exponentially greater. As Chazal tell us: “The one who sanctifies himself a little, Heaven helps to sanctify him a lot.” (Yoma 39a).
The reality is that the ability to return, the ability to do teshuva, is something not of this world. Chazal tell us that teshuva is above the nature of the world because it was created before the world came into existence.2
Like the Chanukah lights, teshuva is a force that is beyond our comprehension. Our job is to know it is there, to “see” it’s effect, and make ourselves a vessel to receive it’s influence…
With this in mind, it can change the way we view the Festival of Lights… The real miracle of Chanukah was not that a small group of Jews were able to fight off the more powerful Greek empire, nor was it the fact that the Greeks seemingly overlooked one jar of oil, and the oil stayed lit for the eight days. These may have been miracles in the sense that nature was altered.
But, the real miracle was something above nature altogether… The Greeks, the force of tumah (spiritual impurity), were able to get inside of the Beis HaMikdash and ravage it, purposely defiling all that was ritually pure. And yet, for all of their efforts, there was one little space where they just couldn’t enter, one small jar of oil that they couldn’t defile. Not only that, but the effect of the light made possible by that one little space, is still felt in the world to this day, every year at Chanukah (Shabbos 21b).
Even if we feel trapped in ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in, and we think that there is no hope, it’s not the reality! As long as we are alive, holiness has not completely left us; we are not spiritually dead. The Chanukah candles and the light they reflect are an expression of HaShem’s love for each and every member of the Jewish People, His Children. As far away as we may be, He won’t completely abandon us. He is always there waiting for us to let Him in…to make just a little opening… just a small step forward.
1. As taught by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi
2. Maharal, Netivot Olam, Netiv HaTeshuva, Chapter 3