Every mitzva a Jew performs brings light to the world. This happens whether or not he “believes” in what he’s doing, whether or not he has “kavannah“, whether or not he has learned deep meanings about this mitzva. This is also independent of whether he has any realistic grasp at all of what is meant by “bringing light to the world”–can anyone really understand/define Ohr Eyn Sof, the Infinite Light which energizes and vitalizes all existence?
Even if Chanukah is reduced to children’s songs and parties and over-eating, this Infinite Light is still drawn into our world. Even if it is so trivialized that the allegory of adding candle light into the darkest of days of winter becomes the central concept, Ohr Eyn Sof is increased. When it becomes a self-parody of universalism and denying the unique mission Israel has in the world, as long as one lights נר חנוכה (Ner Chanukah), the Chanukah candle, simply by performing a mitzva, this light still blazes into our world.
It’s increasingly a challenge amid all the noise of commercialization, assimilation and denial, not to mention all the other distractions of daily life, to slow down and allow oneself the opening to sense even a tiny glimmer (and, really, for all of us, תלמידים חכמים (talmidim chachamim), great Torah scholars and עם ארצים (am aratzim), those completely ignorant of any Torah concepts, this tiny glimmer, הארת אור (ha’arat ohr), slightly better or slightly less understood, is all we can truly experience) of this great, ever-renewing light. Nonetheless, even without our feeling anything at all, with the simple lighting of candles by Jews around the world, spanning each extreme of knowledge and belief, this light floods into our world in an irresistible torrent.
The question each of us faces is how can we take the next step, to transform and direct this great light, in other words, for us to fulfill our mission (certainly not our only one, but a very important one, indeed) of being אור לגוים (Ohr l’Goyim), a Light to the Nations? Our weekly Havdalah ritual provides a hint when holding our hands towards the special havdalah candle we focus on the areas of light and shadow that appear on our palms. We then make a bracha which is “sealed” with the phrase המבדיל בין קודש לחול (HaMavdil beyn kodesh l’chol), “Who distinguishes between the holy and the mundane”. Light, modulated and utilized properly doesn’t wipe out differences but, rather, highlights them, allowing us to work with great precision. Pure light allows us to see our unique selves. Not only in terms of our private spiritual journeys and our communal obligations do we need to reinforce the pure and excise the evil, by example we both provide the “light” itself of absolute transcendental values of life, love, morality and responsibility as well as modeling (if we do, indeed, live according to our ideals and obligations) how to utilize this light to refine ourselves, our family, our community, our nation and our world (always working outward, beginning from the innermost).
In short, we most certainly can, through various techniques including study and kavvanot (intentions), enhance and refine the light we bring into the world which each mitzva we perform, but to bring the light itself, the primary goal itself, all we need is to start. The Chanukah candles we just lit are a good opening for those who have become distanced from our unique opportunities, but the next available mitzva is a good place to start, even for those of us already actively engaged.
May we join those who יֵלְכוּ מֵחַיִל אֶל־חָיִל (Yeylchu mey’chayil l’chayil) go from strength the strength.