A Meditation on Light

Hanukkah 5781

by Emily Rogal

We live in a world of utilitarianism. We are taught to see things not as they are -- full of inherent worth and value -- but for what they can do. As children, we prance through the grocery store in all of our glitter-filled glory, singing at the top of our lungs with Elsa’s crown perched precariously on our heads. As we grow older, too many of us begin to internalize the messages of shame that run rampant in our culture: be smaller, be quieter, be attractive, be useful.


In Talmud Bavli Masechet Shabbat 21ab, the rabbis instruct us that when lighting a menorah, another lamp must be lit in the room. Commentators later on attribute this to the idea of “not deriving functional benefit” from the Menorah. This is an odd fact, seeing that we are allowed to use Shabbat candles for light. 


But not the menorah. The menorah is light for the sake of light. 


Too many of us have been robbed of the experience of seeing ourselves, as Rabbi Shulamit Izen says “being light and being of the light." As Rabbi Minna Bromberg recently reminded me, fat people, people with disabilities, people who require any kind of social assistance or accommodation, are viewed as draining our resources. In actuality, like a menorah perched on a windowsill in the darkness, they -- we -- are beacons of light. 


The wisdom of the menorah teaches us a radical lesson -- that it is enough to just be. How would we live fuller lives that are more abundant, and more gracious if we were to call a ceasefire with ourselves for all the ways that we have internalized society’s ideas of our deficiencies? What if we stopped hating the ways that we are not who others think we ought to be, but instead embraced ourselves for all of the light that we already are?


As you tend to the flames of the Hanukkah lights, so too should we all tend more to the wild, untamed, joyously overflowing parts of our own souls and bodies.


Wishing you a chag shemen sameach (a very delicious, fat holiday).