Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Chanukah - Enjoying the Flame - ONLY!



It may seem like the Mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles is an easy one. Go to your local Jewish shop, purchase a Menorah with wicks in a pre-packaged kit, some oil, and then simply lighting the quantity of candles for that night, at the right time. Actually, there are many laws attached to the lighting of the candles. So much so, that there are opinions that tell us to prepare our Menorah three days before the Mitzvah is to be fulfilled. Once the time comes for the Mitzvah, we must hurry to perform it immediately – and then is simply not the time to start thinking of what needs to be done!

One of the Halachot that strikes one as being somewhat different to the norm of Mitzvah performance, is the fact that – as we recite in the beautiful song after lighting the candles – the candles may only be looked at. We may not get any benefit from them. We may simply look at their beauty. Surely, one could ask – once the lights are already lit, one could make use of them for a variety of purposes?! Perhaps the electricity is out (again!) and this makes a great opportunity to save ourselves from the external problems of lights. In fact, since we’ve already fulfilled this beautiful Mitzvah, why not simply use it as much as we can?! We’ve spent a good deal of money on the oil, the wicks and the beautiful candelabra! Why not get some really good use out of all these things now?!

Who would think of baking a tasty looking cake for Shabbat, only to have to leave it on the table for the entire Shabbat so that everybody can enjoy the appearance? What of purchasing an attractive Shtreimel for Shabbat – so that we can enjoy it’s appearance on Shabbat?!

Making the cake for Shabbat is for the purpose of eating it on Shabbat. One thereby acquires two beautiful Mitzvot – one, the actual baking for the honour of Shabbat, and two, the eating of the cake and enjoying Shabbat itself. For Chanukah, why not do the same?! Light the candles, enjoy their beauty – BUT, turn off all the lights and get a two for the price of one Mitzvah! After all, once we’re already doing a Mitzvah of one kind, extend it to bring further happiness.

A Jew is compared to a light. The Torah says that Ner Havayah, Nishmas Adam – the candle of G-d is the soul of man. For this reason, one should be careful with regards to blowing out a candle (even if it’s your birthday!) Rather we extinguish the candle (if need be) by doing an action not directly related to one’s own breath. It is not fitting for one to use one’s own soul (breath) to destroy another soul (the candle which is in fact a soul.)

Being in a world of give and take, we tend to see life as all about what we’ll get from others – especially when we help them. Imagine the goodness of the world where those with tremendous wealth would simply give to the poor without thinking of a return? The possibility of a loan fund to give to another to help them without the often embarrassing situations that arise as to how they’ll pay it back? Most people don’t mind putting in effort in making a something of somebody else… so long as there will be something back in return. If there’s any doubt that nothing beneficial will come, most people turn a blind eye to another’s problems with a variety of insults indicating their distaste to the manner of life they are living and their need to constantly have to ask others for help.

The Rebbe Rashab spoke of every Jew as being a lamplighter. Of going around to illuminate another Jew. The Baal Shem Tov spoke strongly of seeing another’s spiritual needs as one’s very own physical needs, and their physical needs as being one’s own spiritual needs. Making another Jew is big business in the world of kindness! Yet, we get caught up in the net of honour or prestige, of expectance for a return on investment for having “made another” who they are.

Chanukah teaches us something about the value of a Jew. It teaches us about the importance of lighting them up to realise who they really are. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe would say – it is our duty to bring every Jew back to G-d. It is our duty to realise that another Jew may be asleep and this is why he seems unaffected by the Torah around him. But when he awakens, we might find that in fact he is far greater than any of us. Just because another sleeps, does not detract any less from the fact that what is inside the sleeping body may well reside greatness we could never hope to attain.

On Chanukah, we light candles. We awaken other Jews. Before lighting, the oil sits quietly achieving nothing, but it’s potential is enormous. A wick placed inside the oil seems to simply detract from the stillness of the oil. But when a flame touches the wick, the oil and wick work together producing a fire, a flame that burns continually into the night, in peace and beauty providing a sweetness to the darkness all around. And it is then that the Torah says “You may not have any benefit from the flame, save for looking at it’s light.”

Our duty is to illuminate the flame of another Jew – no matter what it takes, both physically (to provide for those who don’t have) and spiritually (to make certain they receive a proper Torah education as soon as possible in their life – so that they too can experience a Torah lifestyle and feel their connection to G-d Himself.) But making another Jew comes with a “catch”. There are no deals involved. No possibilities of using them now for our own purposes much as a drug dealer will expect from those whom he supports.

We must stand back and be prepared to partake of the goodness that another offers – no matter what it is, without having to interfere – demanding that he now give us back what we might have given to him at one or another stage.

There are no exceptions. Every Jew is a light – a Chanukah light. Every Jew automatically radiates warmth and goodness. But sometimes, they simply don’t have the wealth or education to show others just who they are. They are stifled, stuck, limited in being able to express themselves, much like the wick in oil – without the flame. Our duty is to light that flame and realise how much darkness of the world it actually expels – all on it’s own. That is the greatness of the Jew. To begin to demand payment for this Jew’s goodness is an insult to the nature of what he already expresses. He did not make himself. G-d chose him to be just who he is, with all the deficiencies each of us see in him (deficiencies that exist in fact – in ourselves.)

The Chanukah candle represents everything a Jew is. Quiet, gentle, soft and sweet. It’s hushed light rising ever higher. And for what?! To give of itself, to bring light into the world. But what does it ask from us? It asks us to provide the light so that it can illuminate and rise ever higher. When this happens, we must step back in respect, realising the greatness of this beautiful light. It asks for nothing more, than to be itself. Nothing less than to share it’s very own light.

But sometimes… it needs your help. We give children money, because we realise that with wealth, a child will be able to express himself, to become a somebody – to live! Let us take these same lessons into our day to day life. Let us be able to appreciate the true value of another Jew and to understand that sometimes, we may not use another for our personal benefit, whether through hard labour, through insult (for our own honour) or for any other purpose. Our task is to see the greatness of another Jew, what they are and what they can become. Our task is to give them what they need to achieve their goals.

“These candles are holy, and we don’t have permission to make use of them, except – only to look at them, in order to praise and glorify Your great Name – upon Your miracles and upon Your wonders and on Your salvations.”

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