On Increasing the Light

“How are you?”

This seemingly innocent question has become difficult for many in the Jewish community to answer since October 7th. At times, there’s a slight hesitation or a heavy sigh before a response. Some people have stopped asking the question altogether, as this mundane greeting has grown to feel fraught. It is a shift that seems reflective of the complexity of Jewish life at this moment.

In times that feel particularly dark, I am reminded of a famous debate between Hillel the Elder and his contemporary, Shammai. While Shammai argued that we should begin Chanukah with eight lights and gradually decrease them each night, Hillel argued that we should start with one light and increase it to eight, as we should always elevate to a higher level of holiness.

The symbolism is apt for this moment. Personally, I’ve found deep meaning in the idea that lighting a candle each day represents the ways that small actions accumulate, eventually creating something beautiful and powerful. To be honest, these small actions are probably just as much for me and my own sense of hope and optimism as they are in strengthening the world in which we live.

This will be a Chanukah unlike others in our collective memory – one in which our daily, incremental additions of light feel even more essential in the darkness. In the face of adversity and uncertainty, we can also commit to doing something that brings us joy, strengthens our community, or makes a positive impact on the lives of others.

At this moment, our capacity to create change, no matter how large or small, is critical in sustaining us individually and as a community. As individuals, we can and must continue to opt into living vibrant Jewish lives — whether by supporting the causes meaningful to us, sharing Jewish identity with our children through offerings like PJ Library, engaging in Jewish learning or other events, and much more. As the story of Chanukah reminds us, our faith, heritage, and culture are essential. Let us remember that our strength and resilience as a people are crucial to building a better future.

Together, we can find empowerment in taking the small steps to make a significant difference.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah,