One of my favorite teachings about Chanukah is the Talmudic story (BT Avodah Zarah 8a) of Adam, the first human, noticing the days getting progressively shorter. He worried that he was the cause of the encroaching darkness, chaos and disorder. His concern grew so great that he spent eight days praying and fasting. Once the season of Tevet began with the days lengthening and moon reappearing, Adam realized, “This is the way of the world!” So he made a festival for eight days to celebrate. Adam then instituted for all subsequent years a 16-day holiday for the sake of heaven (le’shem shamayim).
Though the world around us may have darkened during 2020, and disorder and chaos have loomed large, we need not despair. There will come a time when those things will diminish, when light, order, stability will come again.
Throughout human existence, pandemics come and, after a painfully long time, fizzle out or are curtailed by human ingenuity. Social and political tensions also arise occasionally and eventually generate constructive transformations.
Our challenge, as it was with Adam, is to celebrate this dynamic. The way of the world necessarily includes periods of intensifying and isolating disarray that, in due time and after much effort, release into seasons of creativity and connection.
For the sake of heaven, perhaps this year we should light our channukiot not for eight days, but 16, to celebrate our (eventual) emergence into an ever brighter and more stable world
Rabbi Jonathan K. Crane is the Raymond F. Schinazi Scholar of Bioethics and Jewish Thought at Emory University’s Center for Ethics.