Chanukah, by all accounts, is one of the most joyful holidays on the Jewish calendar. In my mind's eye, it has always been centered around children - seeing beautiful, young, smiling faces as they light the menorah, sing the beautiful Chanukah songs, spin the Dreidel, and of course, who can forget the presents?
This past Friday, a few moments before ushering in the Shabbat, I had a very different experience. Unfortunately, due to the way our divorce schedule reads, I was not privileged to have my children this weekend. As I got up to light the menorah, and the candles for Shabbat, I had an empty feeling in my heart.
Chanukah is all about joy. It’s all about hope, and yet happiness was the furthest thing from my heart. How can you truly experience joy, when a part of your soul is not with you? Who can truly understand the pain that divorced parents go through? To the world, it may seem that life goes on, but that is a fallacy. Life can never, ever be the same. No Shabbat meal, no holiday, and no joyous occasion can ever be complete, when your children are not with you.
The pain and loss of divorce is so personal. Every person experiences it differently, but I am certain that any parent who has been through divorce knows of the feelings and emotions of which I speak. I took the candle in my hand, and made the blessings on the menorah, thanking Hashem for the miracle of Chanukah, and remembering and exalting the great miracles that He performed for us. But as I lit the candles, tears streamed down my face. The hour was running late, and I had to get to Shul, yet the third candle refused to be lit. I struggled with it, and tried desperately to light it. I was overcome by sadness.
In a flash, I thought back to when my children were just babies- to the very first time I held them in my arms – to their beautiful faces as they slept so peacefully. I remember the feeling I had then, as if it was just yesterday. I remember singing to them and whispering in their ears, that I would never leave them, and that I would always be there for them.
Who could have imagined then, that there would come a time where we would not celebrate special moments like these, together? Who would have dreamt that there would come a day where the time spent with my children was prescribed by a schedule? Oh, how I wish to go back to those blissful, beautiful moments, filled with so much hope and dreams.
Tradition teaches us that one should look into the candles, for within the flame lies the story of resilience of the Jewish people. As I stared at the two lit candles and their flickering flames, I felt that I was alone. Lighting candles, both Shabbat and Chanukah, is meant to bring joy, and hope to the home, but the flame struggled and fought to remain alive. What an apt reflection of what divorce and the parenting that follows is like.
At the same time, I thought back to the generations of Jews, who kept this beautiful tradition. Their lives weren’t easy – not those who lived in poverty, who experienced anti-Semitism, or even those who sacrificed so much to light candles in the darkness of the holocaust. They kept the flame alive in hours that were way darker than mine, I thought. It’s true- there are times that the flame is stronger, and at times it wanes. Not always is the flame full. Our job is to make sure, though, that the candles continue to burn, however small.
Suddenly, it hit me: Chanukah, the ultimate holiday of hope, where few overtook the mighty, where we celebrate the power of the Maccabees overcoming a world filled with darkness, and infusing it with so much light and hope. In a moment, I realized that just because my children were not with me physically, did not mean their menorahs should not be lit. I quickly filled each child’s menorah with candles, and lit them. This time, there was no struggle with the flame. They lit in an instant. I looked at the candles, and smiled. What a great lesson I had just learned.
Friends, don’t wait for others to bring light into your life. Sometimes, you need to light your own fire. Sometimes the simple and symbolic act of lighting the menorah for your children, even when they are absent, can fill your heart with love and hope.
Several hours later, I returned home after a beautiful Friday night service, and dinner. To my amazement, there was one candle that was still burning. It was the light of the Shamash, of my little boy’s menorah. I sat on the couch, and I watched the candle flickering for a few moments. My heart filled with joy and gratitude. My children were very much with me in spirit, and it was the light and candles of their menorahs that filled my home and my heart with beauty and comfort.