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The trembling flame of the revolution
By SHMUEL RABINOWITZ
11/12/2012
One of the most recognized Jewish symbols in the world is the flame of the Hanukka menorah.
 
One of the most recognized Jewish symbols in the world is the flame of the Hanukka menorah.

It is recognized more than Passover’s bread of affliction, more than the succa and the four species, and more than the shofar of the High Holy Days. Indeed, this commandment, which was added to the Jewish commandments about 2,000 years after the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, became the one that everyone in the world recognizes and associates with the Jewish nation. And this is because it faces the public, whereas the other commandments are performed in private.

What do they convey, these small festival candles, that awakes such a deep sense of identification among Jews, and characterizes them among non-Jews? The Talmud tells of a disagreement between two educational and ideological schools of thought – Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai. The sages discussed the question of the order in which the festival candles should be lit.

Should it be in ascending order, one candle on the first night and eight on the eighth and last night? Or should it be in descending order, from eight to one? A deep ideological dilemma is concealed behind this practical deliberation: Where is our heart – in the counting of the festival days which have already passed, or in anticipation of the days which have not yet arrived? Should we be marking and celebrating that which exists, or should we be reminding ourselves of what has not yet been realized? These two stands have continued to echo in the life of the Jewish nation for 2,000 years, but for Halacha (Jewish law) purposes the sages agreed with Beit Hillel, who believed in moderate and gradual ascent, “working our way up.”

Indeed – it has not been easy to be a Jew during these 2,000 years. It was not easy to maintain faith under the Roman Empire; to adhere to the eternal covenant under Christian rule in Europe; to segregate oneself in clothing and appearance under Muslim rule across Asia and Africa.

But wherever exile’s tortuous route took it, the Jewish nation lit a candle of hope and faith, “working our way up,” which flickered in the windows of the home and the soul every year. On the cold and dark nights of Hanukka, it was this light of hope and faith, this light of the strong Jewish spirit, this candle that illuminated our future.

Hanukka candles shone everywhere Jews reached; sometimes in the open, sometimes hidden; small lights that embodied a big revolution. It is no wonder, therefore, that these trembling flames became the most recognized Jewish symbol in the world.

“For out of Zion shall come Torah and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3). I send you from here blessings of Hanukka, the festival of small lights which celebrates the huge light of the soul and the spirit.

The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall.
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