I recently came across a news item published in the Jerusalem Post about a group of environmentalists suggesting that Jews the world over light one candle less each night of Chanukah, in order to minimize its impact on global warming.
Each candle produces some 15 grams of carbon dioxide, they pointed out. When multiplied by the millions of candles being lit during the eight days of Chanukah the damage caused to the environment is really significant, they argued.
At first I thought it was a joke, but as I read on I realized that they were serious.
I decided to investigate the matter, and discovered that a healthy adult at rest produces approximately 33.6 g of CO2 emissions per minute simply by exhaling. In times of stress this may increase to more than 336 g per minute. Each burning candle produces not more than 7 g of CO2 emissions (the environmentalists probably made their calculations based on Shabbat candles, rather than Chanukah candles, which are much smaller . . .).
Based on this information I came to the conclusion that sitting calmly by the menorah for the required hour, contemplating G‑d’s miracles in the past and present, will induce a deep state of rest and tranquility which in fact will decrease CO2 emissions, thereby helping to combat global warming!
In any case, even were this not to be so, to suggest tampering with the observance of the menorah lighting out of concern for global warming implies insensitivity to the value of the Chanukah lights and their benefit for mankind. Should we perhaps stop cooking food because of the CO2 emissions that cooking generates? Should we maybe ask people to exhale every second breath in order to curtail global warming? Obviously the benefits of eating and exhaling outweigh the negative effects of the CO2 emissions they produce.
After finding my answer to the claim made by the environmentalists, I continued thinking to myself. . . . Since nothing happens by chance, what positive lesson can I learn from this unusual piece of news that came to my attention?
Here is what I came up with:
One of the fundamental concepts in Jewish thought is that anything and everything that any one of us does impacts everyone. The Rebbe spoke many times about how important it was that every Jewish woman and girl light the Shabbat candles. Each additional Shabbat and holiday candle adds physical and spiritual light to the world, the Rebbe stressed. Halachah mandates that the Chanukah candles preferably be lit on the windowsill or in a doorway facing the public domain, precisely in order to illuminate the outside world with the holy light of the Chanukah candles, we would be reminded time and again.
This campaign, to encourage as many Jews as possible to light the Shabbat and Menorah candles, has always been something that I did motivated by my belief, or theoretical understanding, of the ideas the Rebbe was espousing regarding the practical and tangible effect that every additional candle contributes towards illuminating the world.
Now, thanks to the environmentalists, we also have the scientific basis to support these ideas. Even though the conclusions may differ as far as the cost/benefit considerations are concerned—the environmentalist arguing that the cost of the heat that is generated is a price too great to pay for the benefit of the light that is radiated—nevertheless the basic concept is there: anything that any one of us does affects everyone. For the good and for the “better.”
And then another thought came to mind:
Just like heat and light, power and influence affect the environment in two different ways. Power, like heat, is the effect that one has over someone else; whereas influence, like light, is the effect that one has within someone else. Heat and power can affect someone against his will; influence and light, however, can have an effect only when the other person is willing to let it happen. (Light will only be beneficial to me if I open my eyes; heat does not need my permission to affect me.)
This correlation between influence and power can perhaps be seen in the structure of the circle. The area of the circle is far greater than the area that the center point occupies. Nevertheless, the whole circle revolves around that invisible point.
Power is represented by the area of a circle—the more power one has, the more space he controls. Influence is represented by the center point of the circle; although it is invisible, nevertheless the whole circle revolves around it. Its value is not measured by the amount of space that it occupies, but rather by its location and effect.
In the Chanukah prayer of Ve’al Hanissim we thank G‑d for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the evil ones into the hands of those that occupy themselves with your Torah. . . .” This, in synthesis, is the empowering message of Chanukah: Right eventually overcomes Might. Light is more powerful than heat. Influence is more important than power. Where you are is more important than how much space you occupy.
Every candle illuminates. Every one is important. When one does what one should, he succeeds in having his world revolve around him. When one does not do what one should, or does what one shouldn’t—either intentionally or because of ignorance—he will end up turning this way and that, generating too much heat and not enough light.
Now, that is not very good for the environment.