Hanukkah is over. For eight days we celebrated the holiday of lights, a festivity commemorating miracles that occurred almost 2,000 years ago: the tin of consecrated oil which burned for eight days, and the wondrous military victory of the Maccabees over the foreign occupiers.
This Hanukkah was a bit more difficult, for on the first day Israel suffered the tragic, horrific loss of forty-one security personnel during the huge blaze in the Carmel forest fire in the northern part of the country. As has been said before, Israel is a small state; everyone knows someone… So too here in Hebron. One of those who died in the bus was a first-cousin of a Hebron resident.
It seems so ironic that on this so festive occasion, the fire of the Hanukkah candles should be transformed into an inferno of devastation and loss of human life.
Hanukkah is a very interesting holiday. According to Jewish halacha (law), there are three possible ways to fulfill the mitzvah (precept) of lighting the menorah: One person of the household can light one candle very night; or each person in the household can light one candle every night; or every night, an additional candle can be added and lit – one the first night, two the second night, and so on. This last example is considered to be the most elegant way to kindle the Hanukkah candles. In other words, the more light, the better. But only one light at a time. For should two of the candles be so close together that they touch, with the individual flame becoming more like a flare, the mitzvah has not been fulfilled, the aim not accomplished. They must be separate, allowing them to be singly identified.
The Talmud advances another discussion concerning candle-lighting: should, on the first night, one candle be lit (as is done today), or should eight candles be lit, and on the second night, seven, etc?
What is the idea behind this debate? Revered Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin z”l gave the following analogy. Fire can do two things: it can burn or it can give light. It is written in Psalms: Abandon evil and do good. During Hanukkah the Maccabees had to deal with two principal issues: 1) the attempt to defile Judaism, to Hellenize Jews, preventing them from practicing Judaism, and forcing them to overtly transgress Torah law; 2) to the purify the Temple and relight, not only the physical Menorah, but also the spiritual essence of the Jewish people. How then do we remember Hanukkah? Do we first abandon evil, in other words, first burn away the darkness? Start with eight candles, burning away as much of the darkness as possible, working our way down, until there are no shadows left, leaving room only for the good, for the light?; or, do we begin by slowly emanating light, pushing away the darkness, until the last night, when there is only light. Do we begin with ‘abandoning evil,’ or ‘doing good?’
Usually, during Hanukkah, we follow the second path. However, unfortunately, this year, we walking both trails. True, individually, on the first night we lit one candle. But that day, collectively, we were witness to many, many candles lit simultaneously. We light 36 candles on all of Hanukkah. There were 36 people on the bus, burned to death. Another five also died as a result of that conflagration.
And so, what is the lesson to be learned? We cannot read G-d’s mind, we cannot know why this terrible event happened. But we can, and must try to learn something, for what transpires is not just chance.
The forest fire, as dreadful as it was, actually happened. Even though we don’t know why, it’s a fact we have to live with. This shows us that at times, as in the above analogy, all eight candles are lit at the outset, all at once. This might not be ‘the preferred way’ to deal with events, but sometimes there is no choice. So it has to be in our dealings with those who still wish to destroy us, be it physically or spiritually. Those, outside of Israel, who seek to obliterate our spirit, or annihilate our being. Our response, the Israeli response, must be to first burn the darkness, wipe out the danger, disintegrate the evil. If not, they are liable to try to eradicate us first.
But this way is only when standing opposite outside forces, peoples or countries outside Israel, seeking our end. However, when dealing amongst ourselves, this approach must never even be considered. As Jews, as Israelis, we must begin with one candle, desiring not to burn away the darkness, rather to create more and more light, which will eventually push out any and all negativity that may have been present. That is the way brethren should interrelate with each other. Seek out the good, and automatically malevolence evaporates as if it never was.
And now, that Hanukkah is over, have all the flames extinguished? Thank G-d, the huge fire in the north is over. But a candle is still burning, one of those Hanukkah candles, which we lit for eight nights. One of those candles, which represents our eternity, our faith, our inability to ever give up, still glows. That candle, in the heart of each and every Jew, has always radiated light, to both the individual and to the community, the people, at large. As it always will. We will never lose our belief, our devotion, we can and will always overcome, knowing that one small flame can and does, exude much light.