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Chanukah: Seeing in the Darkness

Chanukah: Seeing in the Darkness

Chanukah and the murder of my son taught me a new way of seeing.


Chanukah is a holiday that helps me understand the fallibility of numbers.

My son Koby was murdered at the age of 13, a prime number, divisible only by itself. Prime numbers are a special category. Nothing else can enter them. My son's death is like a prime number, a kingdom I cannot fathom. When I think of Koby, I am left with something I cannot divide. Every time I think of him, every hour of every day, I am left with a mystery.

Does Koby age in heaven? Or will he always be 13? To attach a number to him is meaningless. He has left the world of numbers.

Now Koby would be 15. Does he age in heaven? Or will he always be 13? To attach a number to him is meaningless. He has left the world of numbers. I have a friend whose 20-year-old brother was in a coma for 13 years. It was exceedingly painful for her to see her brother age, his hairline recede. His body was a shell for his soul. He was still in the world of numbers, but there was no category that fit him.

When I am asked how many children I have, how should I answer? Do I count Koby? How can I not? How can a number describe my desire for him?

There is a picture in my daughter's room that shows Koby and me together at a bar mitzvah, two months before he was killed. What I see in my eyes is how proud I was to be his mother, how proud that a brilliant beautiful child like Koby was in my life. I had such a feeling of ownership with him. I felt like he was mine, almost like I had created him. Though now, I see, I never owned him. Because if I had, I would never have allowed him to be taken from me and from this world.

I used to think that life was about acquiring and creating and keeping things whole. But now, when my arm still reaches for four chocolate pudding treats on the shelf of the supermarket even though one of my four children is dead, I see that life is about learning how to see in the darkness.

Chanukah is also about learning a new way of seeing. The Maccabee's war against the Hellenists was a fight not just for territory but also for a worldview. The Greeks believed in the grace of beauty, the redemptive powers of humanity. For the Hellenists, beauty was holiness. For the Maccabees, holiness wasn't always visible -- but was the manifestation of the justice and goodness of God. For the Hellenists, the body was perfection. For the Maccabees the body was an instrument to be used for serving God.

The Maccabees insisted on giving tribute to God and his laws, and his temple. When the Maccabees were victorious and reentered the temple, there was just a little oil left to light the menorah, enough for one day. Nevertheless they kindled the flame and the oil lasted for eight days. Many people believe that this is the miracle of Chanukah.

But maybe it wasn't a miracle at all. Perhaps one vial of oil can always be enough for eight nights if we look at our lives as a place for God to dwell. Because God is infinite, when we approach the Divine, we leave the world where numbers circumscribe reality. Once we make a sanctuary for God, then the infinite possibilities of God dwell within us as well. Numbers become guides, instead of rulers.

Chanukah teaches us that what we see in this world is a glimmer of the truth. Our measurements in this world are imprecise, our ways of knowing limited. The world of truth is not one where the numbers we ascribe to reality are sufficient. One vial of oil becomes eight.

It's not easy to see in the dark, but you don't need that much oil to fill the darkness.

Thus it is fitting that Chanukah begins during the month of Kislev, the month of dreams and sleep. As we near the winter solstice, we prefer more and more to stay in bed. Many of the Torah portions of this month speak of sleep and dreams -- Jacob has his dream of a ladder and God speaking to him; Pharaoh has dreams that need to be interpreted.

Chanukah itself has the logic of a dream. In sleep we have access to a different world -- a world where what is impossible during the day becomes possible. In sleep, the few can become many. The light at night is a deeper light with a greater capacity for revelation. This is the light of Chanukah. This is the light of holiness.

It's not easy to see in the dark, but you don't need that much oil to fill the darkness. A small measure can easily expand to light the largest cavern. The Kaballah tells us that we are like flames, the spark of our souls reaching toward the candle of God.

To see God in my life, I have to see in the darkness -- to see beyond what appears to be, to stop counting with ordinary integers of ownership -- to see what is blurred, undefined, beyond my ordinary senses. Chanukah tells me that what matters is not how old Koby is now -- I can't count him anymore with my daytime logic. But I can create a sanctuary inside of me -- a place of holiness where his death matters, a place where I consecrate the light of his soul so that it shines within me.

November 30, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 11

(8) Anonymous, December 18, 2008 2:52 PM

arabs care about their children

What makes anyone think that Arabs do not have the same regard for their children. Parents love for their children are the same regardless of race, color or creed. A jewish parent

Anonymous, December 8, 2012 4:36 PM

Arab parents

An arab parent in Gaza has schooled their child to hate anyone who is an "infidel" and to die for this cause. When Hamas uses their children as human shields, when arab daughters are tortured through "honor killings" , and parents give out candies when their child is a martyr because of being a suicide bomber, then ABSOLUTELY do not dare to compare a Jewish mother's feelings for her murdered child to an arab parent's feelings. They are NOT even remotely the same. They honor death. Jews honor life. You ask what makes anyone think this? The media broadcasts this, while silnutaneously advocating for the arabs. You must be living under a rock.

Daniel, December 9, 2012 3:10 PM

Thank you.

Thank you for articulating that disturbing truth about the Israeli culture of life versus the culture of death that seeks to spread itself across the planet. Before one can deal with their problem, it must be able to first identity it, as disturbing as it may be to do so.

Reuven Frank, December 8, 2015 3:22 PM

Cannot keep silent

I was going to let this go. To just move on, ans say to myself, yet one MORE time, "What's the use? I'm never going to convince this person."
But, i couldn't.
I didn't know Koby or his mother. But, I've met his father several times.

What makes me think the Arabs don't love their children...?

Let's take a look.
Have ANY Arabs started foundation like the Koby Mandell one?
Have ANY Arabs given shows such as, "Komedy for Koby?
Have ANY Arab parents raised money, given to charity, strived to raise consciousness and awareness?
Where are ANY articles like this one by Arab parents?

Why don't I think they have the same regard?
Because, if even ONE set did, tey would be in contact with the Mandells and the Kaplans and others like them foro the sake of "their" children,
and they're not.
Just plain, simply, NOT.

What makes you, or anyone else who looks for the positive Arab voice,
the Arab parent caring, or
The Arab foundations
and who comes up with that big, fat, zero
what makes you think that they care
the width of the sliver of a thumbnail.

I know what makes me think they DON'T!
If they did and do,
Where is it?

(7) Anonymous, December 17, 2003 12:00 AM

i think that this story/summary was a sad but yet a meaningful one.

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