Give me one, pure image. A newborn baby. An ocean at dawn. The sun sinking slowly behind the mountains, dripping pink light in its wake. White roses.
Give me one pure moment. That last step to the top of a steep mountain. Diving in just the right spot into the middle of an enormous wave. Looking into your spouse’s eyes and seeing his soul…
Show me one pure person. Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg sitting beside his ailing wife’s bedside, singing every song he knows until she gives him a smile.
Give me one pure story. Rebbetzin Basya Sheinberg, who passed away last month at age 96 (and 79 years of marriage), shared a hospital room with a woman dying of cancer. Every day she heard this woman and her husband praying that this woman should die soon so that she should no longer suffer. One day Rebbetzin Sheinberg turns to this couple and says: “Why are you praying for death? You are supposed to pray for life!”
The woman and her husband shake their heads: “This is not life,” they say. “This is pain.” And like a compassionate mother comforting her own children, the Rebbetzin speaks to them with all her heart and all her strength: “You are wrong. This is your opportunity to pack your suitcases for your final journey. What are you going to put in your suitcases?”
The couple answers: “We don’t know. We don’t have anything to pack. We never learned about the spiritual realm. We never packed a thing.”
Starting that day, from her hospital bed, the Rebbetzin teaches them how to say Psalms in English, and then how to say blessings over food, and then about Shabbos. And when this woman who was fortunate to be Rebbetzin Sheinberg’s hospital roommate returned her soul to her Creator, her husband asked Rabbi Sheinberg’s yeshiva to say Kaddish for her every year on her yahrtzeit. And in this way, Rebbetzin Sheinberg taught us how to live even in death.
Dimming the Light
People respond to sincerity and purity like the way they do to fresh air. They welcome it. They inhale it. It gives them life. Every morning we say a beautiful prayer: “My God, the soul You placed within me is pure. You created it, You fashioned it, You breathed it into me, You safeguard it within me and eventually You will take it from me, and restore it to me in Time to Come. As long as the soul is within me, I gratefully thank You.” (ArtScroll translation)
But why is it so hard to feel the essential purity of our souls? Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller gives the example of the light of a candle. If you put a curtain up in front of the candle, could you still see its light? Yes. What if you put up two curtains? Yes, you could still see the light even if its dimmer. But if you put up a hundred or a thousand curtains then you might not see the candle at all, even though it is still lit. The soul is like that lit candle, and the curtains are choices that we sometimes make that block us from accessing our true selves
Chanukah gives us the strength to find the pure, infinite light hiding behind the curtains of our lives.
On Chanukah we are given a special strength to find that pure, infinite light that is hiding behind the curtains of our lives. But we need to want it first. We need to yearn for the opportunity to see the lit candle.
What is the strength that Chanukah gives us? What is it about the menorah makes us yearn to find our soul?
When we reclaimed the Holy Temple, there were other jars of oil that we could have used to light the menorah. But we only wanted to light with the pure oil even though there was only a little bit left. We were willing to risk the ensuing darkness in order to give God that one, pure jar of oil.
On Chanukah, the Almighty wants us to remember that we have the ability today to bring pure light into our lives. He wants us to remember all the times when we weren’t afraid to face the darkness. He wants us to believe in what is best and pure inside of us, no matter how small that spark of sincerity may be.
And then He takes each of our tiny sparks and fills our lives with light. That is the miracle.
We see this all the time in our lives. You keep one hour of Shabbos, but you keep that hour with a full heart. And God eventually helps you to keep an entire Shabbos. You learn one sentence of Torah a day with the untainted openness to receive wisdom, and the Almighty teaches you more than you could have ever imagined . You say one prayer with pure intentions, and He preserves the echo of that prayer for generations to come.
At the beginning of time, God created a special light that stretched from one end of the world to the other. Under that light, nothing died and nothing rotted. It was a beautiful, healing, infinite light. But it only lasted 36 hours because God saw that the light wasn’t fitting for this world where we need some darkness in order to have free will. So He hid the light away and allows it to shine only in the World to Come where there is no pain and no concealment.
But once a year, on Chanukah, God gives us access to this hidden light that resides in the deepest recesses of our souls. There are 36 candles lit during Chanukah, each candle representing an hour that this hidden light was revealed to the world.
Each candle that we light removes another layer of the curtain that blocks the hidden, precious light of our souls.
Each candle surrounds us with the purity of that little jar of oil that always has one drop left. Because all we need is one pure thing. One pure image. One pure moment. One pure story.
And like fire giving to fire, light giving to light, soul giving to soul -- that one pure moment gives to the next pure moment. Candle to candle. Until the darkness disappears.