Let the Light Shine

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runyan_josh_otJudging by the work of famous Baltimorean Edgar Allen Poe, the unknown realm that’s bordered between reality and imagination is indeed a frightening one. “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before,” his narrator says in “The Raven.”

Indeed, in the language of literature both ancient and modern, fate and fortune are frequently described in terms of the semiconscious flights of fancy we all experience in the middle of the night. But as we all know, dreamers’ true successes only come when they’re able to bridge the chasm between dreams and reality.

Anyone who’s ever been forced awake by a fitful mind will attest that the first moments spent in darkness are disorienting. Misplaced shoes carelessly left on a floor can easily trip up an unlucky night wanderer; so as he stumbles in the dark, he grasps for the light switch to bring clarity to his predicament. Light goes on, darkness fades away, peace returns to the bedroom.

Sometimes, even the simple act of turning on the light is an accomplishment in its own right.

This week’s JT, coming smack dab in the middle of Chanukah, focuses quite a bit on light. It looks at how the Festival of Lights has become something of a defining holiday for Jews right, left and center, those “religious” as well as those “secular.” Most people identify the eight-branched menorah — the source of those lights — with the miracle of a single cruse of oil lasting eight days, but the holiday itself commemorates another, some would say “greater,” miracle: the military victory of a ragtag band of Jewish citizen-soldiers against a well-equipped and greater force of Syrian-Greeks.

But it could be argued that the greatest miracle itself is that, as they reoccupied the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews’ first impulse was to rededicate the structure immediately, the lack of available oil notwithstanding.

Dreams are great, because they demand nothing from the dreamer. With your eyes closed, all physical boundaries fade away and the impossible not only becomes possible, but expected. But dreams, existing solely in the dark, are not real.

Fresh from their unexpected victory, the Maccabees could have been satisfied with “achieving” a dream. But they realized that they were merely grasping at nebulous figures in the dark if they didn’t let a little light shine.

It’s no secret that as Jews and as Americans, we live in a world challenged by existential threats from within and without. Assimilation and poverty, terrorism and discord, apathy and selfishness all force us to respond in myriad ways, and although we rejoice in miracles small and large, we stumble along, trying to find our way. We’re either dreaming or rubbing our eyes to make sense of the darkness.

As we celebrate Chanukah, may we answer such challenges by turning on the light.

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