Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lighting a Spark...

The mishna in Shabbos describes the very specific types of oils and wicks that may be used for the Shabbos candles. Only the pure oils that can give off a steady, unwavering flame - drawn through a wick spun from fine material - are considered appropriate for the Shabbos licht (Shabbos kindling). Lesser quality oils, kerosene, and flammable substances that give off unpleasant smells cannot be used.

On Chanukah, however,any type of oil and wick is usable. Indeed, while using olive oil is the preferable method of kindling for the Chanukah lights (pure olive oil is even better), the halacha states that anything may be used, as long as it can last the required amount of time.

What is different about Chanukah? Chanukah's essential mitzvah is the lighting of the menorah; logic would dictate that of all the times of the year that we would be didactic about what sort of kindling we use would be on Chanukah, not Shabbos!

Reb Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger (author of Sfas Emes) offers a beautiful explanation. "The flame of God is the soul of Man." - every soul is an aspect of flame, created from a Godly spark. Some, by virtue of their good deeds and merits, have a strong, clear flame, fed by the very purity of their actions; they glow brilliantly and radiate light towards others. Others, through their sins and shortcomings have more coarse material to use as kindling; their fire is lit, but it can be weak, unsteady, sputtering, hardly able to light their own lives, let alone anyone else's.

These latter souls can go through an entire year and not be affected by the radiance of the Shabbos light; their coarseness simply doesn't allow for it. Chanukah possesses the unique ability to warm any Jew's heart, no matter the quality of their "oil". On Chanukah, even the simplest, lowliest Jews feel the stirring of something deep within them, a dim light fighting to shine forth and illuminate the recesses of their hearts. They feel this way because Chanukah is different than all the other holidays; the eight days of Chanukah represent the existence of something Beyond - above the natural order. Seven alludes to the finite, the world of limitations and physical laws. Eight is outside of those restrictions, unfettered by limiting forces. On Chanukah, we are awakened to that Beyond because the Chanukah lights allude to the Or HaGanuz (the "hidden light" reserved for the righteous), and we yearn to be drawn close to it and to draw it into our lives.

This is apparent even today: there are many Jews who remain unaffiliated, who want nothing to do with Judaism. The three exceptions are Pesach, Yom Kippur, and Chanukah. Of those three, the one that they enjoy the most is certainly Chanukah, and that is the secret of the oil, and the light that shines into their souls...

1 comment:

Neil Harris said...

Funny, I also read this teaching over Shabbos Kodesh and I think that's why the Maccabeats video has been featured on national TV news.