What does it mean to be Jewish? To be a Jew is to be a candle. Every Jew is a candle. Judaism, the Tora is the flame of that candle. This metaphor is not arbitrary or capricious. The Tora was always compared to “light”. The Hebrew word TORA comes from the Hebrew word OR meaning “light.” The word Tora is almost identical to the word “Mora”, teacher. We Jews believe that the learning process is a process of enlightenment. The Tora is “our teacher” it teaches us, it educates us. And through her teachings, our teacher, the Tora, dissipates darkness from our lives. “Clarifies” our existential doubts.
Now that we understood why the Tora can be likened to light or to a flame, let’s consider the following. If a Jewish person does not learn Tora, does not observe the Tora, leaves it, and does not allow the Tora to illuminate him, is he still a Jew? The answer is “Yes”. A Jew never loses his Jewishness (Israel, af ‘al pi shehata Israel hu). A Jew without Judaism, though, is a flameless candle. And a candle without a flame, is it still a candle? Of course it is. Although, a candle without flame is a meaningless candle. A candle that still has not served its purpose, neither accomplish the mission for which it was conceived. But nevertheless, it’s a candle. It is not a chair, a shoe or a cat. It remains a candle. And as such, it can always be lit! Perhaps, all what that flameless candle needs is another candle, a candle that is already lit, to get closer and affectionately, offer its flame….
Our mission as the Jewish people, as the prophet Yesha’ayahu (42:6) said, is to become “leor goyim” a light to humanity. And this mission is fulfilled by our example, when we are lit and illuminated. This is what is expected of us.
I think this metaphor of the candle and the flame is very appropriate for Hanukka. It helps to clarify, among other things, why we celebrate the military victory of Hanukka lighting candles. Let’s see.
At times our enemies wanted to destroy the candles. That is, they sought our destruction, regardless if the candles were on or off. If in Nazi Germany a Jew would say : “I do not believe in God. I’m not observant. I am an atheist. Let me go…”, he would still had been taken to the gas chambers. In the Shoah, as in the days of Haman and Ahashverosh, the enemy did not care about the flame. His hatred was ethnic. But also practical. After all, by destroying the candles you also extinguish the flames …
On Hanukka, as well as in the times of the Inquisition, the goal (or at least the stated objective) of the enemy was not destroying the candles. The mission was to extinguish the flames, turn the candles off. And replace the flames by the cross or by a Greek sculpture. The Hashmonayim, our heroic ancestors who defeated the enemy on Hanukka, did not fight for their lives. They fought, and actually sacrificed their lives, to preserve the flames of the Jewish candles.
The miracle of Hanukka, the oil that lasted seven times more than it should have lasted, also has much to teach us today. If we follow the example of the Hashmonayim and fight to preserve what is ours, our Tora. And if we are willing to sacrifice ourselves by not letting its light to go out, HaShem will be on our side. And if our forces or talents are only enough to light one candle, HaShem will give us the strength to kindle eight. Or maybe more.