Keshet Associate Director of Education and Training, Rabbi Lonnie Kleinman, reflects on how even when times are at their darkest, we can bring light in that shines more brightly than we ever could imagine.
By Rabbi Lonnie Kleinman
Hanukkah and other winter holidays mark a time in our calendar when nights are longer and appear darker. Lighting a candle for each night helps to dispel the feelings that a long, dark night can bring. Rabbi Lonnie Kleinman, Keshet’s Associate Director of Education & Training, offers a D’var Torah to for Hanukkah that helps us meet the season and fight attacks on LGBTQ+ rights.
As Hanukkah uses the contrast of light and dark to help us make sense of the changing seasons, we also acknowledge the way that these kinds of metaphors have been used against People of Color, especially Black people, situating darkness or blackness as opposite light, and therefore goodness. We reject this false dichotomy and engage these elements as metaphors for reflection on how the changing light can spark action for a better world.
As we journey towards the end of the secular calendar year and deep into winter, a midrash (or, what I often refer to as “rabbinic fan fiction”) I learned about in rabbinical school comes to mind. It goes like this:
“The Sages taught: When Adam the first human saw that the day was progressively diminishing, he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder…
(Avodah Zarah 8a)”
This midrash hits me in the gut. I imagine how Adam must have felt when he first experienced the shortening of days. The rapid onset of darkness must have been terrifying and could only be a consequence of something terrible, and so he concludes it’s due to his own sinning.
This is such a human instinct: to try to make sense of the reason why bad things happen in the world. Sometimes we can point to a clear cause, but more often, there’s no coherent answer. There are many theological debates about the problem of suffering in this world and where it originates. But I’m less interested in this conversation. Instead, I’ve always found comfort not in the question of why suffering exists, but rather, how will we meet it? And even further, how will we care for one another in this reality, where suffering is as inevitable as a sunset?
When I think about the world right now, I remember the ways in which we as humans create mechanisms that cause suffering to each other. I think about the anti-trans and LGBQ+ bills being drafted and passed across our nation. I think about how these hateful pieces of legislation darken our days and serve to shorten the lives of so many trans folks. These are sins that truly bring about chaos and disorder in the world and cause harm to thousands.
But there is potential for change. We have the opportunity to “lengthen our days.” Change comes about when we speak out against hateful legislation and bigotry. We must listen to those whose identities are being attacked directly and join together to create spaces of refuge. I find comfort in taking action and seeing loved ones speak out to protect me and those I hold dear. I hope you can, too.
This Hanukkah, I ask you and urge you to keep asking yourself the question, “What am I doing to lengthen the days of LGBTQ+ people in my community and the world?“