A HANUKKA THOUGHT: What does it mean to be Jewish?

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. It “clarifies” our existential doubts.


Now that we understood why the Tora can be compared to light or to a flame, let’s consider the following. If a Jewish person does not study Tora, does not observe the Tora,  and does not allow the Tora to illuminate her or him, is he still a Jew?  The answer is “Yes”. A Jew never loses his Jewishness (Israel, af ‘al pi shehata Israel hu).
However, a Jew without Judaism is a candle without a flame. And a candle without a flame, is it still a candle? Of course it is still candle! But a purposeless candle. A candle that still has not served its mission, neither accomplish the goals for which it was conceived. And still, it’s a candle. It is not a chair, a shoe or a cat. It remains a candle. It has the potential of holding and carrying a flame. And as such, it can always be lit! Perhaps, all what that flameless candle needs is to get closer to another candle, a candle that is already lit, and take a spark from its flame….


Our mission as the Jewish people, as the prophet Yesha’ayahu (42:6) said, is to become “or la 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 physical destruction, they wanted to kill us, regardless if the candles had or did not have a flame. 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 …


During 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 a Greek sculpture or by a cross. 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 eight times more than it should have lasted, also has much to teach us today. If we follow the example of the Hashmonayim, we should fight to preserve what is ours, our Tora. And if we are willing to sacrifice ourselves by not letting the light of the Tora to extinguish, HaShem will be on our side.
Let us keep our candles lit. And let us share our flame with those flameless candles.  Perhpas, as it happened in Hanukka, if our strength and talents are only enough to light one flameless candle, HaShem will give us the strength to kindle eight. Or maybe more.