July 20, 2024
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What We Can Learn From The Festival of Lights in the Time of COVID

This year, we again find ourselves counting down the final days of the calendar year while we increase the number of candles in our menorah. It seems to be a meaningful contrast; we wind down the affairs of 2020 in a reflective state of mind while focusing on an increasing number of Jewish holiday lights. I believe the manner in which we are instructed to light the menorah gives focus to this unique intersection of events.

“On the first night of Chanukah we place a candle (or vessel of oil) farthest to the right (in the menorah) and each successive night of the holiday we add one candle from right to left. On the second night and each night thereafter we begin the lighting with the last candle we have set up and proceed to light from left to right. In this way, our blessing is focused on that which represents the continuing growth of the miracle.” (Shulchan Aruch, Laws of Chanukah 676:5)

In other words, we set up the menorah in a manner that reflects upon the candle of the previous night, the accomplishments of the past, but we focus our blessing for the mitzvah of lighting on the newly added candle, that which represents the newest source of light, the continuing miracle, now and into the future.

It has been an exceedingly difficult year for all of us. Many have encountered the tragic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, be it personally with illness or, Rachmana litzlan, the passing of a family member or friend. Many have experienced financial difficulty as a result of their business being closed. Many of our children have had to acclimate themselves to a world that is beyond their comprehension. And many of our parents have struggled to help them adjust. So this year, while we may reflect upon the past year with sadness, our tradition compels us to look into the light of our menorah and focus on the brightness of our future.

God willing, we will have a vaccine in short order that will put an end to this terrible plague. We will be able to reunite with friends and family members from whom we have been forced to distance ourselves; parents, children and grandchildren will be able to hug and kiss each other after a long period of quarantine. God willing, we will be able to rebuild our businesses and bring clients and customers back into our professional lives. God willing, we have learned how much we need to be with each other, live and in person, unmasked and without social distance. God willing, our children will not be compelled to wear masks in school and/or split their lessons between in-person and virtual classrooms, as school life returns to normal.

This year, may the increase in light throughout the eight days of Chanukah, the experience of setting up the candles reflecting back on the past and lighting the candles in hopeful anticipation of the future, bring the awareness of the impending increase in health and welfare to our world, our family and our friends. As we say after we light our menorah each night, “During all eight days of Chanukah these lights are sacred and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but rather to look at them in order to express thanks and praise to Your Great Name (Hashem), for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.”

May our spirits be elevated by the miracle of science and the inspired work of all those who cared for our sick and tirelessly endeavored to find new and better ways for us to protect each other. May we gaze into the increasing flame of our candles and thank God for giving man the resources to develop a vaccine that will ensure a brighter future for humanity, speedily in our days.

Chag Chanukah sameach!


Rabbi Tzvi Bernstein is the dean of Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy of Connecticut.

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