May 16, 2024
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Finding Light at the Darkest Times

In February 2008, I had the great honor to host the former chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, in Vancouver. This was one of the most cherished moments in my rabbinate.

As I was waiting for him to emerge from the plane into the airport, I was nervous. After all, it isn’t every day that one has the opportunity to meet such a personality. When Rabbi Lau saw me, he was smiling from ear to ear, and gave me a hug as if he had known me for many years, making me feel at ease.

In honor of Rabbi Lau, my wife, Dina, suggested bringing the children of a Jewish day school to greet him at the airport. When Rabbi Lau saw them, he went to each child and greeted him or her personally. One of the children had a question for the rabbi, who gave the child his full attention for a few moments, rubbing both cheeks and making him feel like his own.

Rabbi Lau’s visit gave me a new perspective on life. Here was a man who had lost most of his family during the Holocaust, yet found meaning in life. He had successfully maintained the tradition and teaching his forebears left him and continued to transmit it to succeeding generations, thus bringing light and hope to people around the world.

In my own congregation, there are people from the four corners of the earth, who were forced, in many cases, to flee their generations-old homes, leaving behind all of their material possessions. In new lands, many of these people have succeeded in recasting their lives anew, resurrecting hope not only for themselves and their families, but for the entire world.

One of these people in my previous community was Mr. Nazem Aboody, born in Iraq. Mr. Aboody had a great impact on my life. As one of the founders of my synagogue, Mr. Aboody quietly took me under his wing from the day of my arrival in Vancouver and became an important mentor and teacher. Mr. Aboody was a remarkable presence. He was a discreet man of few words, each one of which had depth and meaning. His mere presence brought decorum, respect and grace to any venue.

The Talmud teaches us that God created the world with a unique, holy light which He hid after the sin of Adam and which He will restore in Messianic times. I believe there are individuals who possess a particle of this hidden light, thereby continuing to illuminate us with holiness and hope.

These resettled individuals did not lose hope, even though it would have been understandable at times to do so. Rather, through their faith and perseverance we have become the beneficiaries of the holiness they bestow in this world.

Sometimes, when I ponder how I could achieve this, I believe that each of us can be worthy of a particle of this light, and that our discovering and using it, though presently hidden, is a matter of choice and determination.

Kabbalistic writings identify Chanukah as a time in which this hidden light takes center stage. During the Festival of Lights, we are given special access to this hidden light, and the candles that we light during this time of year represent a way of making contact with the original light of creation.

God gave us free will and our Torah. Why, then, should we not reach for this light even in the darkest of times?


Rabbi Ilan Acoca is the Rav Beit Hasefer of Ben Porat Yosef and serves as the rabbi of Congregation Bet Yosef in Fort Lee. He is the author of the book “The Sephardic Book of Why,” a member of the Sephardic Educational Center Metivta Rabbinic Group, a member of the Rabbinic Council of America and a member of the Rabbinic Council of Bergen County

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