The First Candle


The days and months after a marriage ends are filled with firsts; the first time you kiss your kids goodbye for the weekend, the first time someone asks you what your spouse’s name is (“Oh, you’re divorced? I’m so sorry—I didn’t know!”), the first time there’s no one to celebrate your child’s accomplishment with.

For me, one of the experiences that hit home was lighting that first Chanukah candle.

As the sun descended outside my window, the shadows slowly lengthening as the minutes ticked by, I looked out. The branches of the trees beyond the glass stood thin and bare; their leaves having fallen crisply, one by one, in the weeks before. Frost now gently blanketed the ground, shimmering against a backdrop of increasing darkness.

I couldn’t help but feel that change was everywhere. As the seasons turned, so too, it seemed, had all that I had come to know.

The past months had seen my life evolve from the predictable to the present. One short year ago, I had stood by my husband’s side, watching him light each candle, our young son in my arms. He sang the brachos aloud as our combined extended families gathered around, all together answering “amen”, the room alight with the glow of the candles, food and family.

In the quiet stillness of the nights, the pintele Yid within our soul yearns to reconnect with its Source. As small as the spark may seem at times, we have it within ourselves to kindle the flame.

As I turned back from the window and began placing the candles, the room was quiet. Quiet was our new reality. There were no more greetings when walking in through the door these days. The table was now set each night for two, with one full-sized plate, accompanied by its smaller colorful companion.

My little one sat upon the couch, contentedly looking at his picture books, as I looked on. From time to time, he would exclaim excitedly, delightedly conversing with the illustrations. In the darkest days, my son’s presence had become the light I needed to continually spur me on. The fresh young eyes with which he explored the world around him helped me to realize that not all was bleak. Unknowns could lead the way to new discoveries, rather than merely down the road of an uncertain future.

This little one would grow up living with the reality of divorce—a reality from which I hadn’t been able to protect him. It frightened me terribly, knowing that I didn’t know what was to come.

In truth, the past few months had been a struggle. I grappled with finding the strength to get out of bed each morning. I found myself maneuvering great chasms of loneliness, struggling with the need to redefine my role, if not a wife. I feared the burden of now needing to become a provider, not only in financial means, but in Torah and ruchniyus as well. I questioned how we had reached this point, and I questioned what the next right steps could be.

In the darkness, there were always more questions than answers. How does one navigate the legal system? How would I make ends meet? Could I protect my little one from conflict? Might I one day be granted the opportunity to stand beneath the chuppah once again?

Days, weeks, months went by, and slowly, I began to find new footing, new purpose. I came to see that the conclusion of one dream does not bring with it the inevitable end of all others. I found myself falling into new routines and, perhaps a bit cautiously, laying new foundations.

Yet as I stood on that quiet Chanukah night, placing the candles into my menorah, I found myself pausing. Here, before me, stood another hurdle. With the memories of the previous year still alive, present and frankly intimidating me, I wondered whether I could create the sense of simcha which I had come to associate with this wondrous chag.

I walked over to my little one and took him gently by the hand, leading him to where the menorah stood waiting and ready for me. No one would light the menorah on my behalf this year. This year, it was my turn. Throughout these past months, HaKadosh Baruch Hu had called to me, asking me to complete one task after another. There had been no lack of tears. There was still no lack of pain. Yet as time ticked by, He was taking me gently by the hand, asking that I place one foot in front of the other.

Here, now, before me, stood another first.

As I lit the match that night and sang the brachos, Hashem was showing me that it is possible to transcend darkness. As a spark fuels flame, lighting candles, illuminating the night, He was promising to forever light the path before me. 

In times of darkness, it is all too easy to turn away amidst the pain. “L’hagid baboker chasdecha, v’emunascha baleilos” (Tehillim 92). In times of simcha, we are quick to say “Baruch Hashem” and to sing His praise. It is when the light fades and darkness blankets our reality, however, that we are tested. Will we find it within ourselves to maintain and strengthen our emuna, as we wait for dawn to break once more? Will we remember that the light of the Shechina lies in wait, just beyond the horizon?

In the quiet stillness of the nights, the pintele Yid within our soul yearns to reconnect with its Source. As small as the spark may seem at times, we have it within ourselves to kindle the flame. Reach out in words of tefillah. Ask, and you shall find.

“She’asa nissim l’avoseinu, bayamim hahem, b’zman hazeh.”

“As You created miracles for generations past, You continue to bring the yeshuos (salvation) we need, every day of our lives.”

With my son by my side, I sang those sweet words, as we gazed upon that first small Chanukah flame, dancing and glimmering against the glass of the windowpane. The seasons had changed, and a new chapter of our lives was evolving. In the moment, I took my little one in my arms, and we sang and danced around the living room, as true, pure simcha floated around us in the air.

This was a time to sing shira, and to bask in the light of new beginnings. I couldn’t have known then where I would find myself today. Life has continued to evolve, baruch Hashem. Some things remain, while others continue to grow and change. How could I have known all those years ago that one day I would be zoche to help others shine a light, and to find peace amidst their own divorce?

These days, on Chanukah, my dear (not so little) one lights his own menorah next to mine. As we did all those years ago, we will sing, yes, and then we will both dance.


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