Written by: Rabbi Shlomo Farhi of The Edmond J Safra Synagogue of Manhattan Chazak Founder & Chairman
Memory is a funny thing.
Some of our most vivid memories can be of the most insignificant things. Like the way it felt when mud squished through your toes at the bottom of the camp lake. Or some inane advertisement jingle from your childhood. The chain of stores no longer even exists, it lives on only in your brain, which seems inexplicably determined to hold on to a useless defunct stores nonexistent phone number when it can’t remember where your keys, passport or the remote are. Its 1800 M-a-t-t-r-e-s in case you were wondering.
And some of the things you wish you could remember elude you, dancing always just out of reach. Don’t you wish you could recall more of the blur that was your wedding? The face and wisdom of a beloved great grandparent? Something you learned once but have since forgotten?
When it comes to something you absolutely can not forget, sometimes you try to use memory tools to jog the brain, hoping against hope that when you need it you’ll remember that NEVER EAT SOUR WATERMELONS will guide you in your directional quest. Or that My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas will help you recall the planets and their proximity to the Sun. ( Whats the P for again?)
Those were things we deemed important to remember. Because we might get tested on it and lose points on an exam.
One such memory our religion deemed crucial to always remember is the story of HANNUKA. So important that they needed to ensure its survival by creating a mechanism by which we could be certain to remember the critical story of this holiday.
“Light candles” they said. “And don’t use them for anything else!” They must be only for the purpose of preserving the memory of Hashems miracle, so that we are grateful to God.
Using them for putting on makeup, or reading a book might make you stop seeing them as a reminder and only see them as functional candles. Which they are most definitely not.
They are memory candles. Not candles that commemorate someone’s death, but candles that celebrate an entire nation’s LIFE!
It is interesting to note that while in our prayers we talk exclusively about the miraculous wartime victory over the Greeks, when it comes to the commemoration of the holiday we don’t shoot any bows and arrows, or wave any swords, we just light some candles. For eight nights we draw our attention and collective memories to the miracle of the impossibly long lasting oil.
Perhaps the reason for this is that while we prayed for our lives, that isn’t something that slips people’s minds. When a giant army stands opposite you, you suddenly remember that you didn’t pray Minha. There isn’t a danger that will be forgotten.
If we aren’t careful though, we might forget that forgetting who we are, and living life as Greeks is the same as not existing at all!
Then as now we as a Jewish People exist when we remember WHY we exist. And that if we become anyone else, we have lost the identity and purpose we have fought for so long to preserve. One might even go so far as to say that if there hadnt been a miracle of Light, that drew our attention away from the War and back to the Temple, perhaps winning the war might not have mattered in the long run…
So among all the tinsel and holly look for something HOLY. Something that has nothing to do with gifts, ugly sweaters or consumerism at all. Every time you see a candle burning in someones window Menorah, say to yourself Hanerot Hallalu KODESH Hem. They remind us that the greatest miracle in the world is when something small and proportionally not enough, brings a disproportionate amount of LIGHT to the DARK.
Something just like us.