MIKKETZ SHABBAT HANNUKAH
THE FINAL CANDLE
December 29, 2016
29 Kislev 5777
Pharaoh awakened following his night of dreams and was particularly troubled that after the thin scrawny cows swallowed up the fat healthy ones, the appearance of the former had not changed. They remained scrawny and sickly.
Joseph interpreted this as a sign that the seven very good years would be followed by seven lean and horribly difficult years. During this period, memory of the good years of plenty would be all but forgotten.
Forgetting the good days during trying times is an all too human response. I recall a conversation with a wealthy leader of our Minneapolis congregation who, during a recession, was soliciting major gifts for charitable causes that were close to his heart. When many, who were equally blessed with great resources, refused to contribute, citing the diminution of their net worth, his classic response was: “It’s not that the bad times are coming, it’s the good times, when you added to your net worth are going.” He thus reminded them that the current lean years did not swallow up the lasting positive effects of the good years in which they prospered so beautifully.
When a loving member of a family passes away, the bereaved obviously struggle with their grief. When death swipes away the physical presence of their loved ones, the resulting pain is often indescribable. Yet even as they focus on their painful and depressing loss, the bereaved are urged to summon memories of the good days they shared with their beloved. They must summon the emotional energy to allow these memories to bring them a measure of solace and consolation.
This, while easy to articulate is a formidable challenge, especially when the wound is still recent and fresh.
Yet success in conjuring up these memories enables us to add pages and chapters to the ongoing story of our lives. Over and again, mourners hear the prayer that they be sustained by the beautiful memories of their departed loved ones. As a Rabbi, I have reached out to countless mourners with this “prayer” that at first seems trite and even banal. These words of intended comfort, however, are not intended to soothe the mourner’s ear with idle cheer.
Memories can and do sustain us as they unearth countless recollections of good days and good times that brightened and illuminated our lives. Failing to conjure up memories of the good days is a prescription for the despondency that gripped Pharaoh when he awakened from his disturbing dream filled night.
As the dark days of “shloshim”, (the traditional thirty day period of mourning) for my beloved life partner draws near, I strive to draw on the memories of the beautiful and wondrous life we shared for seven decades.
Every night during Hannukah we kindle an additional candle until the last night when the menorah is fully ablaze. I have always viewed the menorah as a metaphor for life. Each life is a sequence of adding candle to candle to our individual menorah. The first is the candle of our birth and with each successive stage an additional candle is added and lit. The final candle is added at the end of life.
Memory is a way of keeping that last candle ablaze. It takes effort, but in the words of Peter, Paul and Mary, the challenge – my challenge – is “don’t let the light go out.”
From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach – a Shabbat of peace and of blessing, a festive Hannukah celebration, and a healthy and fulfilling 2017.
Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman