Kislev. Last shabbat and this shabbat — the two that come in the earliest in the year –just after 4 pm. Literally, the darkest time of year.
The Torah begins with the creation of light, but the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day. Our sages explain this discrepancy by suggesting that the light that was created with the first utterance was not the light of the sun, but rather a bright light of goodness, which gave insight and vision to the first humans (Chagigah 12a-b). Yet, evil actions of subsequent generations obscured that light, and it became the Or Ha-Ganuz, the hidden light of creation — only briefly revealed in the world periodically, through shining acts of goodness. (Sefer Ha-Klalim 18)
So, as Shabbat approaches and I am drained of energy and hungry for light, I am searching for signs of that hidden light. I am starting by paying attention to the small flash there in the living room with my sleeping sons, sweetly sharing a pair of headphones on the air mattress our neighbor lent us, as the quickly-delivered industrial fans dry a flood in their room. I choose to focus on the glimpse of light revealed in the hugs for our grieving member. I witness the flame-igniting sparks hidden in a moving poem of social protest, which my high school teacher friend taught today (and shared on social media.)
Here is what I know about these tiny sparks: sometimes they are easier to see when there is no other light outshining them.
In these next seven dark days until we illuminate the chanukiah, I am asking us to please share the light: where are you finding, and uncovering, Or Ha-Ganuz, the hidden divine light?
Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein, a member of the Wexner Field Fellowship (Class 1), is the Executive Director of the 14th Street Y in Manhattan. Born in the Bronx and raised in New Milford, Connecticut, Shira received her BA from Wesleyan University and has also attended Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Birzeit University in Ramallah and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Rabbi Epstein received her rabbinic ordination and MA in Religious Education from HUC-JIR. Prior to the Y, Shira worked to redefine Jewish educational engagement and community as Associate Rabbi and Director of Youth and Family Education at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Shira was named one of the Feminist Press 40 Under 40 and is an inaugural recipient of the Pomegranate Prize for Jewish Education from the Covenant Foundation, of which she now serves as a Board Member. Shira lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with her husband, Dr. Jason Epstein, and their sons.