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Light is Essential

Friday, 29 October, 2021 - 1:56 pm

Hugo Gryn was a teenager when the Nazis invaded his Ukrainian hometown, rounded up the Jews and deported them to Auschwitz. On the night of Chanukah, as Hugo shivered in their barracks he saw his father pull out a small tin cup with a small lick of butter at the bottom of it. He pulled a thread from his camp uniform, inserted it into the butter and proceeded to light it while reciting the Chanukah blessings under his breath.

Hugo was outraged. Not because his father was endangering his life by lighting the Chanukah candles, an offense for which he could be shot on the spot. He found it simply impractical and asked his father how he could possibly waste a lick of butter that could provide much needed nutrition for their bodies, by lighting it for Chanukah for just a few minutes.

His father looked him in the eye and said. “Hugo, if Auschwitz taught us anything, it is that our person can live for days without food but he cannot live for one moment without light.”

This week’s parsha opens with the sorrowful news of Sarah’s passing. The brave woman who partnered with Avraham in bringing awareness of G-d to a heathen and often hostile world was mourned by all, but no one felt the loss more acutely than her only son Yitzchok. The narrative continues with the dramatic story of how Avraham’s servant Eliezer searched for a suitable wife for Yitzchok and miraculously found the kind and generous Rivka.

Upon his marriage to Rivka, Yitzchok was finally consoled for the loss of his mother and Rashi’s interpretation communicates that his consolation was because she was exactly like his mother Sarah.

Three miracles happened during Sarah’s lifetime. Her dough was blessed that there was always plenty to feed and satisfy the many guests who frequented their home; a divine cloud hovered above her tent; the Shabbat candles she lit on Friday afternoon miraculously burned throughout the week until the next Friday. All three miracles ceased when Sarah passed away and returned when Rivka arrived.

As our matriarchs, these miracles serve as a guide and inspiration for us today.

While the miracles of dough and divine cloud represent the human essentials of food and shelter, what could be the purpose of the Shabbat candles burning all week long?

Sarah and Rivka teach us that while food and shelter may guarantee survival, light is essential for living. Physical light allows us to find our way in the world and interact with others pleasantly, and the spiritual light of Torah clarifies what life is all about. To live life with dedication to a purpose higher than ourselves and serve as shining examples for everyone around us.

By lighting Shabbat candles each Friday at the appropriate time and reciting the blessing, we welcome the eternal light of our matriarchs into every facet of our lives. Long after the physical flame disappears, the message of light lingers throughout the week, inspiring us to add in goodness and kindness, preparing our world for the imminent arrival of Moshiach, when peace and tranquility will reign for all.

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