December 6, 2001
Light One Candle
By rights, this should be a one-candle Chanukah.
Tradition tells us, of course, that we light two candles on the first night, three the next, and so on for eight days. In all, Jews would ordinarily light 44 candles over next week.
But after the World Trade Center attacks and the Ben Yehuda Street suicide bombings, a full-flame Chanukah seems, well, inflammatory. Who can retell the Maccabean victory against Greek bullies without considering the terrorist bullies who today threaten both America and Israel?
"The purpose of terrorists and those who send them and aid them is to expel us, to drive us to despair, to lose our vision. This will never happen," said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week.
Let's show Sharon that we agree. Let us use the symbols of the holiday to rededicate ourselves for battles at home and in the Middle East. The purpose of Chanukah, and the action of lighting of the candles, is to build unity, to join together the personal and the national commitment to Jewish values. We need to let the world know that this year Chanukah is not about dreidels and gelt, but about terrorism and guilt. One candle, each night, says it all.
The sages allow for this, you know.
In the Talmud, the rabbis remark that the minimum requirement for celebrating the miracle of the oil is one candle lit each of eight nights.
No demand for a brass or glass menorah, with nine candles in the shape of a tree. No necessity for a shamash, the candle used to light the other eight.
A chanukiah for every household is nice, Rav Yitzhak says. But a candelabra for each person in that household is better, notes the Rambam, since it broadcasts to the whole world that a great miracle has happened here.
But some years, less is more, especially when we need a miracle of our own. As a community, we need to conserve our energy, to make the fire of resolution come alive.
A one-candle Chanukah is a dramatic way of declaring solidarity between America and Israel in the fight against terrorism. By placing the menorah in the window each year, we are "publicizing the miracle" of the meager amount of oil which nevertheless lasted eight days.
But a single candle each night publicizes a miracle, too. It insists that we takes the current moment seriously, recognizing that we are facing adversaries every bit as dangerous as King Antiochus Epiphanes. He forbade Sabbath worship, kashrut and circumcision, the norms of Jewish life, and placed Greek gods in the Temple, and the sacrifice of pigs.
So too do terrorists seek to end our normal existence, air travel and a peaceful walk in a shopping mall. They want to fill our streets with panic.
Lighting one candle will teach our children, dramatically, that this is a special post-Sept. 11 Chanukah. (I'm not suggesting no presents, heaven forbid.) In the taste of our celebration, we'll put the chocolate gelt where the mouth is.
While we grieve for the silly old days when Chanukah was merely Christmas without a tree, the new seriousness is not entirely bad for adults, either. It compels us to see the miracle of the oil in the most personal terms, as a lesson in how to withstand military and social attack. Chanukah is a story of survival, and we need its lesson today. Tell the children that you, too, see Chanukah in a new, more sober light, now that a skyscraper has gone up in smoke. You might even want to sing the Peter Yarrow song, "Light One Candle," along with "Rock of Ages."
Instead of our giddily comparing our holiday with Christmas, our Chanukah this year will build on the gravitas of its own Jewish history.
Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Temple after the defeat of the Greeks. You might want to ask your children to dedicate each candle to a separate theme. Some suggestions:
Candle No. 1 is for the innocent victims of terrorism, in New York, Washington, Jerusalem and Haifa.
Candle No. 2 is for the soldiers who put their lives on the line for the ideal of freedom.
Candle No. 3 is to refute the terrorist bullies who equate Israeli targeted assassination of Palestinian ringleaders with Palestinian suicide bombers targeting innocent civilians on a pedestrian street. May they not prevail.
Candle No. 4 is to refute the intellectual bullies in our own country who would use the current conflict to challenge Israel's very right to exist. (See candle No. 3).
Candle No. 5 is for the days when Jews and Muslims lived together in peace.
Candle No. 6 is for victory over terrorism, in the past, present and future.
Candle No. 7 is for the leaders of the world, that they be guided by the desire for a lasting peace.
Candle No. 8 is for hatikvah, the hope of our people.
Happy Chanukah, one wick at a time.