The bulb needs the cold for its flower to blossom in the spring. It draws strength from its inner resources during the cold. Bulbs are thus planted right before the winter and gain nourishment from their dark subterranean climate. Bulbs grown in Tucson are planted when the temperature falls below 80 degrees. Some varieties of bulbs like Tulips and Hyacinths should be placed in a paper bag and placed in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator for a few weeks before planting.
Bulbs are a symbol of how life needs the dark cold to grow. Like bulbs, human beings need to regenerate each night in the quiet darkness. We, too, are shaped by the seasons of the natural environment.
Morally and spiritually, we need the darkness as well as demonstrated by one of my favorite rabbinic texts from Talmud Shabbat 88b:
Our Rabbis taught:
The ones who are insulted but don’t insult back,
Listen to their shame but don’t respond,
Do (mitzvot) out of love,
(Retain) joy in suffering,
The text says about them:
“The ones who love God are like the sun rising in its might.”
The sun rising in its might refers to the time right before dawn. Surrounded by darkness, the sun quietly, confidently, naturally rises dispelling all darkness. The ones who love God even while surrounded by darkness are being compared to this moment of sunrise. The ones who can be surrounded by darkness but maintain their core do so because they nurture themselves from a deeper inner source. The darkness directs one to turn inwards. Like the sun, the light that emanates with strength from the core ultimately bursts outwards.
At the end of last week’s parashah, Vayeshev, Joseph is forgotten in the dungeon, a similar place to where he started his journey, in the pit. Between these two places of darkness he grows with the spirit of God making his way successful. He begins to learn who he is in darkness. He defines himself inwardly, regardless of the external circumstances. In this week’s parasha, Miketz, he rises to power in the light of day, in front of everyone. He does so with a deliberate strength that has been forged through darkness.
During Hanukkah, the darkness of this time of year directs us to tap into our inner resources. The darkness teaches us to find strength in our spiritual core. May the candles we light in the darkness be a symbol of this inner light. Like the sun that is rising, our light shines forth from the Source of light.
Dedicated in memory of Hans Spear.