It’s interesting that we learn the idea that Chanukah candles can’t be lit at a height of more than 20 amot, from the idea that Reuven couldn’t see that there were snakes in the pit that Yosef was thrown, as it was more than 20 amot below (Shabbos 22a). Firstly, this implies an idea of darkness, of not seeing, when Yosef’s whole aura was light. Also, Shabbos represents the notion of great light and spirituality, yet this is learned from the Talmud in Shabbos. Lastly, Chanukah is all about light. Why would the Torah use an incident of darkness to be affiliated with a holiday of light?
Mitzrayim was the darkest of places spiritually and the Greeks darkened the Jews as well. Yosef could never have risen so high but for the fact that he was in a society of extreme darkness. The Chashmonaim also couldn’t bring light to the world but for being exposed to a heretical society that denied God’s existence. Darkness allows the greatest of light to shine.
Rabbi Yaakov Harrari notes that Chanukah is relevant to these days as well, as every generation, and all the four exiles had a society that created a reality of unholiness. One can only grow by knowing the unholiness and choosing the extreme opposite path. In the midah of chesed, instead of desire for promiscuity put your desire into mitzvos and the love of God. In the midah of gevura, instead of using strength to place your will on others, place it over conquering the yetzer hara (evil inclincation) and in the midah of tiferet, use splendor to make truthful decisions and not deceitful ones.
Reaching the greatest heights requires a battle with unholiness. Only unholiness can bring a reality of what direction and to what degree a pursuit must be applied. Every person with their strength must also purify it by seeing where societal unholiness lies and then cling to opposite realities.
In this way, as Harvard-educated and noted television writer, David Sacks explains, we can finish the necessary work left in this world to transform the remaining darkness into eternal light.
Steven Genack is the founder and editor of Aish Haolam.