On the fifth night of Chanukah this year, we had volunteered to go light the menorah at the nearby home for the elderly. We have been doing this for the past few years. Different families from the area go on different nights.
This year our night was on Motzie Shabbos. When Shabbos ended, we did a quick Havdallah and lit our own menorah. It so happened that the children weren’t feeling well and there was some decision-making over who would go and who would stay home with the children between my wife, a friend, and myself. We finally made up our minds and went to home for the elderly, however we left about 15 minutes late.
When we arrived, we found the room, adjacent to the lobby, where we typically light the menorah. There was nobody in it, however there was a menorah with five glowing Chanukah candles (plus the shamash). The person at the front desk explained that some of the residents had plans to go out to dinner with some of their children who had beed visiting so they didn’t want to wait and decided to light without us.
I was a little disappointed. I was somewhat excited at the thought of lighting with them and telling them stories about the fifth night of Chanukah and whatnot.
Later, my wife pointed something out to me (which she attributed to one of the Chabad Rebbeim, I think): When we light a candle, such as on a menorah, we hold the flame up to the candle that we want to light hoping that it will catch and continuing burning on it’s own. Similarly when it comes to helping another Jew, and igniting spiritual sparks, the goal is to empower them to be able to engage in Torah and Mitzvot without your assistance.
In the case of the people at the home for the elderly, whom we were going to help light the menorah, they actually didn’t need us and were empowered to light on their own. Their own Jewish sparks must have been ignited into powerful flames which we witnessed burning in the room adjacent to the lobby when we arrived. And that’s actually a reason to feel good about being late.