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When a child learns something for the first time, they have an “aha” moment. 

Children’s cartoons do an amazing job to illustrate what happens when a character gets an idea: a light bulb brightens over their head. Light is a metaphor for knowledge.

This week’s Parsha, Vayeshev begins with Joseph—a dreamer—sharing his dreams with his parents and brothers. The dreams anger the brothers who in turn plot to do him harm. When they are out in the field, away from their parents, the brothers throw Joseph into a pit, into a world of darkness. This was not the only time that Joseph found himself in a pit. Later in the story, he is thrown into prison.

The metaphor of being in the pits is an idea of gloom, of utter sadness and depression. It is the lack of seeing light. It is not knowing; not seeing. A debilitating fear.

How then do we overcome fear of the unknown?

It is no coincidence that Chanukah falls during the darkest days of the year. Only in the next few weeks do the days begin to get longer again, longer each day, as we add more light to our Chanukiyot  (Chanukah Menorahs).

We must therefore look for opportunities to bring light into the world. Each of us must be a beacon of light.

Here are a few highlights from the past week to illustrate how we spread light.

  • Our Kindergarten students collected and delivered food for the Peggy E. & L.R. Jalenak, Jr. Kosher Food Pantry at Fogelman Jewish Family Services.
  • Our Kindergarten and Fifth Grade students joined together for a “Buddy” Chanukah Program.
  • First Grade students were accompanied in their singing of Dreidel Dreidel by a classmate on violin and another classmate on the piano.
  • Our students created beautiful pieces of pottery to be used during Chanukah.
  • Students learned new Chanukah songs and learned how to recite the proper prayers and blessings when lighting the Chanukiyah.
  • In our Design Lab, we created “cookie cutters” using the 3D printer to allow us to mold clay into shapes to create our own Chanukiyah.
  • We had a dreidel spinning contest in our classrooms (with the finals taking place today at Kabbalat Shabbat).
  • Our Fifth graders shared what they learned in their Torah tropes class as a demonstration that as hard as the Greeks tried to forbid us from learning Torah, we still do so today.
  • Our Bornblum Middle created candy Chanukiyot.
  • Our Mishpachot created Chanukah banners.
  • And we learned and taught and became a spark of light, spreading that light to those around us.

During Chanukah, we add much needed light into our lives. Each day we increase the light and therefore increase our joy. Chanukah is called the “Festival of Lights”. We recall the re-dedication of the Holy Temple and the miracles that were performed over two thousand years ago. Chanukah is a time to think about how we are going to re-dedicate ourselves to the education of Jewish children.

Today, we lose sight of the true meaning of Chanukah. We forget about the Maccabees (Hammerers), a small army who fought for freedom and defeated a much larger, stronger army. We forget about the purity of light, knowledge.

The words of Al HaNisim  (a prayer added to our services each day of Chanukah) mirror that of our Joseph story. We learn from Al HaNisim  that at times we have lost our light; much like being in a dark pit. During our darkest days and nights, we must not lose our hope. We often need a spark to re-awaken us—to remind us of our purpose. Light has the potential to give life, not only physically but also educationally and spiritually.

As Joseph found himself in the pit, he undoubtedly struggled with his emotions, wondering if he would ever see the light again, hoping  to get out of the darkness.

Each of us can light a spark in another person. It is why we call this weekly feature, the Spark. We must use the light of inspiration and view ourselves as the Shamash  (the helper candle). As a spark ignites each of us, we must spread the fire to another.  We are the ones capable of lifting someone from the pits and providing them with the opportunity to learn and to grow. We do this by educating our children, by putting them in a community that not only supports them but lights up the path in front of them. That is what we give our children each day at Bornblum.