Light and Darkness

This resource discusses the importance of light in our lives and in the world and the use of light as a metaphor for good versus darkness as a metaphor for evil, examining these assumptions.

Resource Ages: 6-8, 9-11


Banu Choshekh Legaresh – We’ve Come to Drive Away the Darkness

Words: Sara Levi Tannai, melody: Emanuel Amiran
Please note: Due to copyright reasons, we cannot translate the song into different languages. We suggest that teachers translate it for students.

באנו חושך לגרש

מילים: שרה לוי תנאי
לחן: עמנואל עמירן

בָּאנוּ חֹשֶךְ לְגָרֵשׁ.

בְּיָדֵינוּ אוֹר וָאֵשׁ.

כָּל אֶחָד הוּא אוֹר קָטָן,

וְכֻלָּנוּ – אוֹר אֵיתָן.

סוּרָה חֹשֶךְ! הָלְאָה שְׁחוֹר!

סוּרָה מִפְּנֵי הָאוֹר!

And I saw that wisdom exceeds folly as light exceeds darkness.

(Ecclesiastes 2:13)

וְרָאִיתִי אָנִי שֶׁיֵּשׁ יִתְרוֹן לַחָכְמָה מִן הַסִּכְלוּת כִּיתֲרוֹן הָאוֹר מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ.

Truly the light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to behold the sun

(Ecclesiastes 11:7)

וּמָתוֹק הָאוֹר וְטוֹב לַעֵינַיִם לִרְאוֹת אֶת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ.

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How are symbols used in celebrations and holidays?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • Why do people usually associate light with good and darkness with evil?
  • Is darkness really bad?
  • What is the relationship between a symbol and the thing it represents?
  • What impact does light have in our lives?
  •  Why is light important in our world?

Background for Teacher

On Chanukah Jews are commanded to light candles on each of the eight days of the festival. The custom is to light the candles in a nine-branched candelabra or chanukiya; the ninth branch is intended for the shamash. We begin by lighting one candle...

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On Chanukah Jews are commanded to light candles on each of the eight days of the festival. The custom is to light the candles in a nine-branched candelabra or chanukiya; the ninth branch is intended for the shamash. We begin by lighting one candle and add another one every night. The purpose of lighting the Chanukah candles is to publicize the miracle of Chanukah and the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks. When the Maccabees took the Temple back from the Greeks, they lit the menorah (candelabra) in the Temple. The Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Shabbat, 21a) explains that the Maccabees only had a small jug of pure oil to use. Although the oil should only have been enough for one day, a miracle occurred and the oil lasted for eight days, which explains the length of the festival.

Chanukah is also known as the Festival of Lights, and light is an important symbol of the festival. The use of light as a metaphor, and the binary contrast between light and darkness as symbols of good and evil, can be found in many cultures and religions over the course of history. The Bible also includes references to this theme, as in the above quotes from Ecclesiastes. In everyday life and contemporary culture light is similarly used to symbolize positive emotions such as joy, while darkness represents negative contexts and emotions.

Light is a source of nourishment for all life, and as such it is vital. But it’s important to acknowledge that darkness is an important part of nature and is not necessarily bad. Contrary to the cultural assumption that darkness is bad and light is good, both darkness and light play an important role in the organic development of living beings and of the biosphere as a whole. For example, the absence of darkness impairs the ability of the human body to create melatonin, leading to sleep disorders and health problems. Plants “count” the hours of darkness in order to know when spring is coming and it’s time to bloom. On the symbolic level, too, we may identify positive aspects of darkness, such as the importance of acknowledging difficult emotions such as sadness, or the role challenging situations play in human development.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study
  • You can begin the activity with one of the following riddles. Let the students think about their answer alone or in pairs:
    1. What can be found everywhere but does not make a shadow?
    2. Cover an empty box with a cloth and ask: there’s something inside this box that will vanish when I remove the cloth. What is it?
  • If there aren’t any students in the class who are afraid of the dark, ask the students to try to make the classroom as dark as possible – turning off the lights and covering the windows. Sit for a while in the darkness you have made. Discuss: Is the classroom really totally dark? Where is light still coming from? Can we completely stop any light from coming in? Then ask one student to add a little light (a candle, cell phone flashlight, opening the curtain a little, etc.). What difference did the little bit of light make to the darkness? What is easier to create – darkness or light? What can we learn from this about the physical and symbolic qualities of light and darkness?

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. What is light? What is darkness? How can we create each one?
  2. What is the connection between light and Chanukah? What Chanukah customs are related to light? How is the “driving away the darkness” in the song related to the Chanukah story?
  3. Why do you think the people in the song want to drive away darkness? Is the song only referring to literal darkness? What other kinds of “darkness” are there?
  4. What words come to mind when you hear the word “darkness?” And what words come to mind when you hear the word “light?”
  5. In what ways does darkness affect you? How does it make you feel? In what ways does light affect you?
  6.  Why do you think people associate darkness with bad things and light with good things? Do you think light is always good and darkness is always bad? Can you think of some good things about darkness?

For older students:

  1. After the darkness of the night comes the morning, and this cycle is repeated every day. What can we learn from that about our good feelings and less positive feelings?
  2. When it’s dark, even a single match can create light. What can we learn from that about situations when people have difficult feelings, such as sadness or anger? What things “light us up” and make us feel happy in such situations?
  3. The song says “Everyone’s a small light / And all of us are a great light.” What was the poet trying to tell us – what is the song’s message? Give an example from real life of a time when a group has great power.
  4.  What does the quote from Ecclesiastes compare light to and what does it compare dark to? Do you agree with this metaphor?
  • Tell the students that the Chanukah candles remind us of the Maccabees’ victory and the joy when the Jewish people regained control of the Temple. Explain that light often symbolizes good things. The Chanukah story teaches us that we can defeat “darkness” – the difficult or sad things we experience. Brainstorm together the question what gives us light when we’re feeling sad. The students can draw these things, using the colors of the light from the candles. You could give them sheets cut out in the shape of candle flames. Hang the pictures in a long chain on the wall and add the title “We’ve Come to Drive away the Darkness.”
  • Listen to the song Banu Choshekh Legaresh and ask the class to make up a dance including the use of lights.
  • Learn about the Chanukah Candles and watch the presentation about festivals of light around the world.
  • Teach the saying “One candle lights up all the darkness” (Haim Hazaz). Discuss the way that the individual light in each of us can influence our surroundings.
  •  You could use the theme of light as an interdisciplinary topic and study it from different angles – science, art, language, etc.