What three changes could you institute that would improve your life? Most people know exactly what they ought to do and what they ought to stop doing that would make their lives better. Which begs the question—why don’t we just go ahead and do these things?
The answer is what I call “The Force of Darkness.” Understanding and learning to conquer this sinister force is so important that God introduces us to this primeval darkness and general chaos no later than the second verse of Genesis.
According to ancient Jewish wisdom, this verse reveals a dark force built into the universe that attempts to combat progress towards improving our lives. This is why it is harder to diet, exercise, and grow thin than it is to sit around, eat, and grow fat. This is why it is harder to save and invest than it is to spend and consume or to educate one’s self and improve one’s career rather than to seek entertainment. This is why self-discipline is harder than indulgence or why it is harder to build a marriage than it is to destroy one. In other words, keeping the flame burning is just plain hard. It is far easier to sit back and allow darkness to win.
If the problem is darkness, surely the antidote is light—which brings us to Chanukah, the festival of light.
Many mistakenly think that Chanukah is a post-Biblical rabbinical holiday. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, its roots lie in the Torah and within the prophecies of Hagai and Zecharia centuries before the historic events.
Many mistakenly think that Chanukah exists because about 2,160 years ago the Hasmonean Maccabees won an extraordinary military victory over the Greeks and Jewish Hellenists. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, one of the reasons the loyal and faithful Jews were able to win the war was because it was fought on the days already prophetically preordained for light to defeat darkness.
Many mistakenly think that Chanukah is an annual holiday celebrated by playing silly games while eating oily potato latkes. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, just as ranchers must vaccinate their livestock each year to keep them healthy, Chanukah is an annual vaccination of light to keep ourselves healthy enough to dispel darkness.
On the first night of Chanukah, we light one flame. We add a flame each successive night until we have a glorious extravaganza of light emanating from our menorah on the eighth night. Why don’t we increase the total light on this holiday by kindling eight flames every night?
Simple arithmetic reveals that lighting correctly requires a total of 36 flames. It is no coincidence that the word light appears 36 times in the Torah. It is also no coincidence that the first word in the Bible possessing the numerical value of 36 is the Hebrew word meaning “Where are you?” which God asks Adam after his sin. You see, in Hebrew, each letter has a numerical value and the four letters of that word have the values of 1; 10; 20; and 5 for a total of 36.
א י כ ה
5 + 20 + 10 + 1
Needless to say, God knows where Adam is hiding. The question was not an attempt to discover Adam’s physical whereabouts but instead it was God admonishing Adam to reflect on his spiritual condition.
That word echoes down the ages as God asks each one of us every day, “Where are you?” The message of the 36 bright flames, increasing by one each night, is that you dispel darkness by achieving just a bit more today than you did yesterday. Remaining in one place is just a slower way of moving in the wrong direction. Staying the same is an illusion, not reality. That is simply the way God created the world.
An earlier version of this teaching appeared inThought Tools Volume 2.