Shalom WJC Family,
Chag Urim Sameach – Happy Festival of Lights! I hope you are enjoying the holiday and that the light of miracles is chasing away the darkness of the short wintery days.
A quick Hanukkah ritual trivia question:
A. Put it back in its place without worrying if it might fall.
B. Use one of the candles that represents a day of the holiday to melt the bottom of the shamash and then put it in its place.
C. Blow the shamash out, you don’t need it anymore.
D. Use a match or lighter to melt the bottom of the shamash and put it in its place.
The Correct answer is D (though ‘A’ is not a Jewish issue, just common sense). Here is the reason why:
In order for the hanukiah to fulfill its purpose the shamash has to be present AND the other candles cannot be used for any practical purpose. As we read in the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 673:1, “Since it is prohibited to utilize the Hanukkah light whether on the Sabbath or on a weekday, even to check [the authenticity of] coins or to count them by its illumination…We have the custom to kindle an additional light, in order that if one uses its illumination, it would be the additional light…Ramah (Ashkenazic Rabbi’s gloss): In these countries, we do not have the custom to add, one only places by them the auxiliary light with which he kindles the lights, and this is more preferable. And it should be made longer than the other lights, so that if he comes to use [the illumination], he will use that light.
Why can’t we use the hanukkiah for another purpose? The purpose of the candles is to make known that a “great miracle happened.” If you use the candles for something, say counting coins, or reading or melting the bottom of another candle, someone would think you lit the hanukkiah for its utility and they wouldn’t get the message about the miracle. The shamash, or used candle, serves a symbolic purpose – should you do something by the light in the room, it will be known that you are using the light of the shamash and not the light of the other candles. So, we need a shamash and we are required not to use the other candles – even to melt the bottom of the shamash.
As I lit my hanukkiah during the first part of the holiday, I asked myself, which of these candles would I rather be – the useful shamash or the sacred candles of the miracle? On the one hand, who wouldn’t want to be holy? On the other hand, what good is being holy if it requires keeping ourselves totally separate and we can’t be useful? This conundrum presented by the hanukiah is an enduring question for the Jewish people.
Of course the answer is somewhere in the balance between the two; the answer is in participating in sacred activities that also bring the light of holiness into the world. Being useful in a way that is part of our mission to be God’s partners in Tikkun Olam. In that way we can be useful and holy. There are so many causes in need of our attention, and so many that the WJC family has adopted and committed to. Living as the “useful light” means fighting that fatigue and understanding that we cannot afford to let up – the darkness doesn’t take a break, so neither can we! For at least one night of this holiday, let’s commit to giving gifts to those who need it most. We are still collecting donations to the WJC Discretionary Fund earmarked for the apartments being rebuilt by the CRC and the Fuller Center.
We are also excited about our new participation in ICNAW, the interfaith coalition helping to resettle Afghan refugees. Our first Refugee family is already here living in White Plains and we need your help to provide them with a place to live, healthcare, legal immigration needs, education, food, toiletries – everything! But you can get something too – an authentic, kosher, Afghan meal, cooked by an Afghan woman who was previously resettled with the help of ICNAW and our own masterchef Herb Leventer. How to do it? Make a donation and on Sunday, December 12th pick up your dinner at the synagogue before joining the virtual meeting at 6pm.I hope we’ll see you there and enjoy the dinner!
In the meantime, Happy Hanukkah and I hope we’ll see you at one or more of the great Shabbat Hanukkah events you can read about in the rest of the email and/or at the Saturday night outdoor Hanukkah lighting ceremony and dinner!