It’s funny how feelings change with the passing of time. Although sadness over my son’s passing hasn’t gone away, and never will, it certainly has changed and now goes in a different direction.
When Jacob first passed away and for some significant time after, I couldn’t bear to look at any of his personal stuff. His wallet, phone, backpack, anything he used was off limits to me. I just couldn’t look at them or touch them. Except for his kiddush cup. For some unknown reason, I was able to look at and touch the silver cup he used for kiddush. Often, he would make havdalah for me with this same kiddush cup.
Since Jacob’s passing, my husband and I always make sure that his kiddush cup is on the table for both Shabbat meals. Somehow, I feel that it’s easier for Jacob to be with us for kiddush. I want to let him know he’s always welcome at our table and he’s not forgotten. People have asked me if I feel Jacob’s presence at the table. Not really, but it doesn’t mean he’s not there. Does he show up? I hope so.
Jacob’s Chanukah Menorah
In contrast to Jacob’s kiddush cup, his Chanukah menorah was one of those things I couldn’t look at for a long time. I don’t know why, but this year is different.
A short time ago, I noticed his Chanukah menorah sitting with the other knick knacks in the cabinet with the glass door. This was his ‘football’ menorah, the one I had given to him as a kid. He would continue to light Chanukah candles from this menorah even as an adult.
A thought popped into my head that this Chanukah we should light Jacob’s menorah. Of course, this thought didn’t really ‘pop’ in. It came from somewhere. I’m going to guess that either G-d put that thought in there or Jacob did. I was somewhat hesitant to light Jacob’s Chanukah menorah because I wasn’t sure how I would feel. Would lighting his menorah make me more happy or more sad? G-d and Jacob knew before I did that I was now ready to move to the next stage in honoring the memory of my son as well as finding some comfort for myself.
So I lit Jacob’s menorah and, surprisingly, I felt happy. I always get a peaceful feeling looking at a candle flame, but this time I felt something special. I felt Jacob was really here with us and he was so happy looking at the lit candles in his Chanukah menorah.
There is something spiritually special about a candle. We light a candle on a person’s yahrzeit. The book of Proverbs says: ‘The soul of man is the candle of G-d.’ (Mishlei 20:27) Similar to the soul, the flame is etherial, and it’s natural for the soul to be happy because it can relate to something similar. Rabbi Bechayei ben Asher (1255–1340) teaches that the soul of a departed person actually has joy from the physical flame. So too, I feel that Jacob was truly happy over seeing his Chanukah lights.
Spiritual Darkness Before Moshiach
The days in which we live before the coming of Moshiach is a time of intense spiritual darkness. This darkness can manifest itself in physical, emotional, or spiritual suffering. All we know is that we’re suffering and we don’t know why. We don’t know what G-d’s plan is for us and that not knowing makes our suffering greater.
The Ohr HaGanuz, Spiritual Clarity
There’s something the Kabbalists call the Ohr HaGanuz, the ‘light’ that G-d hid away during the first days of creation. This light is not physical light but rather a spiritual light. What does physical light do? It reveals that which is hidden. Similarly, the Ohr HaGanuz is a spiritual light that reveals G-d’s purpose for all existence. It’s a light that can give us the clarity to see beyond the physical and find the meaning in everything in our lives.
Our Sages tell us that the light of the Ohr HaGanuz is in the Shabbos lights and in the lights of Chanukah.
Shammai and Hillel Light The Chanukah Menorah
There was a debate between the Sages Shammai and Hillel regarding how to light the Chanukah lights. Shammai said to start with eight candles and decrease by one candle each night. Shammai’s method thus celebrates the days of Chanukah that are left. His rationale for decreasing a candle each night is similar to the number of bulls offered each day on Sukkot. Just as the bulls offered on Sukkot decreased by one each day, he felt that we should decrease the candles by one each night.
In contrast, Hillel said to start with one candle and increase by one candle each night. Indeed, this is what we do. Hillel’s method celebrates the days that have passed and follows the idea that a person should always ascend in holiness.
Both practices are valid in their own way. However, there is a fundamental spiritual difference between the method of Shammai and that of Hillel. Although even a small amount of light (like one candle) may dispel some darkness, we have to keep adding spiritual light to truly overcome all the darkness of this world. This is the way of Hillel. We have to keep adding lights. When we get to the days of Moshiach, we won’t have to struggle with fighting the darkness anymore. It is said that when Moshiach comes, we will light the Chanukah menorah according to Shammai.
So now, Jacob is with us not only for kiddush, but for Chanukah as well. I pray that he will be with us every day in a physical body very soon. May we all merit to access the Ohr HaGanuz and bring spiritual clarity into our lives.
Wishing everyone a joyous and meaningful Chanukah.