Image: On the first night of Chanukah, only two candles will be lit. (Photo: Scazon, some rights reserved.)

Chanukah starts in the dark.

Winter is upon the Northern hemisphere. The days shrink, the nights grow longer. It seems as if winter will go on forever. It seems as if we will be forever in the dark.

In one week, Chanukah will come, and we will light candles.

We light the first, the shamash (SHA-mash) “helper” candle, then use it to light the first of the eight candles of the festival. But on the first night, the two seem so small, twinkling above an almost-empty menorah.

This year, a lot of us have been feeling alone, worried about the future, horrified by too much in the present. White supremacy is on the rise, our Muslim neighbors have been threatened, and many of us have personally experienced a rise in anti-Semitic activity both on- and off-line. National security is a concern as… ok, enough of that. You know what I mean.

Every year those little Chanukah candles inspire me, but never so much as they will this year. They stand up bravely, lighting up the night, holding up the hope for brighter nights to come. They don’t apologize, they simply shine.

Notice that there is never a time when a candle is completely alone – even tonight, first night, the shamash candle, is also there to serve. Just as the shamash has to be lit on the first night, we have to be there for one another.

Good people stand up for what is right, long before it is popular to do so. They shine their light regardless of who is looking or who might laugh. They hold hands in the dark; they sing. They shine and shine until their wax is gone and they sputter out. And then the next night – a miracle! – we light again, and there will be THREE candles standing against the dark.

Let us all be brave as these candles of the first night: Shine your light no matter how few shine with you. Stand tall and be proud to stand, no matter how dark the night.

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