Hey Buddy, Got a Light?

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.

26 thoughts on “Hey Buddy, Got a Light?”

  1. Nicholas Hodges

    So I found this page looking for a novel I read years ago with the same name as this essay. It was also written by a Rabbi. Unfortunately every search I’ve tried just leads me back here. Does there happen to know this novel, or how to find it? Its been so long since I’ve read it, this is all I can remember other than it was a comedy of errors involving a tobacco co. employee…
    Any help would be appreciated

  2. Rabbi Lapin and Susan,
    For a number of years now I’ve enjoyed your Thought Tools and podcasts. They have broadened the scope of the bible and made seemingly difficult passages to understand suddenly making sense. Too unfortunate that the Christian bible scholars and commentators do not have “ancient Jewish wisdom” to impart these gems of eye opening and mind raising awareness. You are a delight to read and listen to. I felt that I had to let you and Susan know how appreciated your work is. I don’t know Hebrew, but I do know that there’s a lot of ‘hidden’ messages that can’t come through with just a translation. For your work in sharing and explaining these I am most grateful and thankful. God blesses you and your family.

  3. Hi RDL and Susan,

    I hope that you can answer my question soon for my Bible Study.

    Please list the chapters and verses in Hagai and Zecharia which pertain to Chanukah. I cannot discern what they are. Thank you.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Jan–
      Obviously for reasons we have explained elsewhere, Chanukah is not revealed openly in Scripture but in hint.
      See Zecharia (4:1-7) where he foresees the return of God’s presence and the lighting of the Menorah. Essentially rededication which is the literal meaning of Chanukah. Chagai (2:18) also speaks of the rededication occuring Kislev 24/25, the start of Chanukah. Also in listing of the Biblical festivals the last one, Sukot, Tabernacles, is immediately followed by When you light the Menorah. And much more too lengthy for here and now.

  4. Kristofa Okenta.......Nigeria

    Thank you Rabbi Lapin. Your thought tools make me appreciate
    more my Christian faith, the Bible as the Word of God and Isreal
    as a nation God called out.
    This particular lesson is not only informative but very inspiring.
    Thank you. Let more be coming.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Kristofa-
      Thank you for your encouraging words. That is exactly why we do what we do.
      Stay in touch with us.

  5. Thank you, Rabbi, for this Godly wisdom. I have to share that while reading this thought tool I was struck with the sense of awe that comes through imagining coming face to face with God. Your words transported me to so many places- the angst at the Garden of Eden and the first days of chaos; the Maccabee fight (the story of Hanukah I knew); a living room filled with warmth, joy, silly games, and the scent of oil and potatoes in the air; and then the awe of God and man connecting through light and a practice that even lost in original meaning, when born out, still connected us. A thin thread that merely needs fleshing out by a curious human mind to create a strong cord. Hahaha. Just a bit of geeking out here. Sorry to ramble a bit. Again, thank you, Rabbi.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Vickie–
      Your letter is in itself evocative! It was so welcome, thank you. Susan and I really appreciate hearing that our work adds value to the lives of our friends.
      I want to clarify that I don’t write anything without Susan. These writings are as much a part of our collaboration as are our children. I could as easily do one alone as the other.

  6. Please list the chapters and verses in Hagai and Zecharia which pertain to Chanukah. I cannot discern what they are. Thank you.

  7. I know I can count on Rabbi Lapin to get me through the hard day, the hard times…
    When in doubt – open the Thought Tools! – that has been my go-to remedy for many years now…
    Yes, most definitely everybody needs a Rabbi, especially the one like you, my dear Rabbi Lapin! Questions get answered in the most sincere and profound way; questions are asked, and some serious soul searching is required to answer them honestly for yourself; the path gets illuminated and becomes obvious; the darkness subsides…
    Thank you, my dear Rabbi and Susan Lapin!!! You don’t know what you mean for so many of us!
    Happy Chanukah to you and yours!
    With gratitude.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you for your heartfelt and welcome letter, Luda,
      It means so much to Susan and me to know that our work is helpful.
      I want to clarify that I don’t write anything without Susan. These writings are as much a part of our collaboration as are our children. I could as easily do one alone as the other.
      Wishing you a joyful and uplifting Christmas,

  8. “The entrance of Thy words giveth light;
    It giveth understanding to the simple.” Psalm 119:130 KJV
    “For the commandment is a lamp. and the law is light;
    and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” Proverbs 6:23 KJV

    “Thoughts are the seeds of words and deeds.” Anon.
    Are we choosing thoughts of darkness or of light?

  9. Light dispels darkness, not vice versa. The more we put God’s light into our mind, heart and life, the less darkness we will see.
    When I was a kid, 10-ish years old, my Daddy took my brother and me to the Ohio Caverns. It had electric lights throughout and the guide had a flashlight. Near the end of the tour, he had us stand still in a large open area–then turned out ALL of the lights! Wow, talk about ‘can’t see the hand in front of your face’! I could feel my hand touching my nose but could see nothing but darkness. After a few minutes he lit ONE candle. I could see the people and rocks around me again, vaguely, but visible. And the dark could not put the candle out, the candle pushed the dark away from us. Over 50 years ago, still a vivid memory!
    Thank you for your writings, Rabbi Lapin. I think I’ll find a lot of light to contemplate in those 36 uses!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Dear Lyna–
      What a great memory for you and a wonderful anecdote for us.

  10. I just ordered the Festival of Lights CD yesterday. With this lesson as an appetizer it can’t get here soon enough.

  11. Boy oh boy, do I ever wish you were my Rabbi when I was growing up!
    I never heard this deep explanation of why we lit the Chanukah candles.

  12. WOW Rabbi Lapin,

    Now this is just LOADED, LOADED with Divinely-inspired genius! SO much insight that will help us all. So Adam was basically hidden in the proverbial dark when God called out to him, “Where are you”, the Light in His Voice maybe being the 1st one to cut through that darkness, like a lighthouse in a storm.

    Just moments before I read this email, I had been looking at a video of a young artist of whom I am very fond. You may know of her, her name is Akiane Kramarik, and she has a remarkable story, and unbelievable giftings. She publishes time-lapse videos of herself creating her masterpieces, all sped up to the tune of 2-3 minutes. I have been marveling over one of her techniques, and have called 3 people (artists) into my office today just to point this out to them. Many of her paintings literally glow with an ethereal light, it’s a stunning effect that I am sure she learned by unction of the Spirit of the LORD. One of her paintings is entitled “Odyssey”, where the finished product shows a white horse with a particularly brilliant, whiter-than-white, snowy mane, tail, and other parts. So as she starts painting this, she first paints in the backdrop and leaves a horse-shaped space in the center of the canvas. Now me, if I were assigned to paint a brilliantly glowing white horse, the first thing I would do is put a blob of white paint on the canvas. BUT – she first paints the horse in IN GREENISH-BLACK. Then in a series of steps that I never would have thought of, she lightens the horse up and up and up, in lights and whites, until just the undertones of the dark are left peeping through this gloriously luminous white horse. Somehow, beginning with the darkness, she is able to create the most dazzling white horse you have ever seen. I’m not really sure even how it happens, but you can see it for yourself. And all I can think of all day long today is, that God, Who is Light, called the worlds out of darkness and nothingness, and that His day didn’t begin with morning but with night (the EVENING and the morning were the first day), and the words of Psalm 139:15,16 keep going through my head, how the psalm writer said that God saw his “substance”, “substance yet being unformed”, and I think that’s the Hebrew word Golem – unformed mass – and how God created all that intricate detail that became the human body out of a blob of blobbiness. Called the light out of the darkness. So these have been my thoughts all day, thinking about how the most brilliant white light is created by this young painter by starting with ugly, dark, green-blackiness, and then I read your very “illuminating” ha ha Thought Tool – I guess this is the vein for today. Thank you so very, very much.

    Now I will go and eat 55 Christmas cookies and dream about how I will start an exercise program tomorrow.

    KIDDING!!!! KIDDING!!!! KIDDING!!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Blessed Hanukkah to you, Mrs. Lapin, all yours, and all you hold dear!

      1. Celesta, in Hebrew there is one way to spell Chanukah (actually 2) but in English you can pretty much spell it how you like.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Celesta-
      We deeply appreciate your interesting letter and your very kind wishes,
      P.S. I am not familiar with the artist to whom you allude.

      1. Akiane Kramarik is a Lithuanian-American who, at 12 years old was on a CNN segment about having “visions” of heaven at the age of four. Her descriptions of heaven sounded remarkably like Coltons’ (whom the book “Heaven is for Real” is about).

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Interesting Mona,
          thank you. But I have been conditioned by the ceaseless partisanship to distrust just about everything that CNN claims.

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