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Eternal Chanukah

Eternal Chanukah

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Illustration by Sefira Ross
Illustration by Sefira Ross

'Tis the first night of Chanukah. I stare at a flame rising from an elegant glass of pristine olive oil. So steady and sure of itself. It does not blink before anyone’s gaze. So lonely in number, so small in size. So wondrously loud and strong in the song of its mighty spirit.

Night has fallen. Darkness stretches endlessly through the atmosphere and cloaks the cosmos. But this defiant flame illuminates a household, beams onto a street, and inspires a neighborhood. By its courageous light of truth the family of nations shall go. Night has fallen The entire universe ascends by the warmth of its soul.

My mind wanders back to recent events in Paris. Forces of darkness under a blackened banner extinguished manifold lives. Distraught compatriots laid wreaths and kindled candles in memory and camaraderie.

A father carries his young son in his arms. A reporter approaches, asking the youngster whether he understood why terrorist had attacked their city. A poignant exchanged ensued between father and son, captured perfectly on camera.

“Yes, because they’re very, very, very mean!” says the boy, cutting to the heart of the matter. He thinks he now needs to flee France. His father reassures him that an exodus is unnecessary.

“But there are bad guys, Papa!”

“Yes, but there are bad guys everywhere.”

“They have guns, they can shoot at us because they have guns and are bad!”

“Well, they have guns, but we have flowers.”

“But flowers don’t do anything!”

“See all the flowers? They’re to fight against the guns.”

“Are they there to protect? The candles too?”

“That’s it; it’s to not forget those who left us yesterday.”

“The flowers and the candles,” the boy concludes confidentially. “They are there to protect us.”

The exchange having run its course, the reporter asks, “So are you feeling better?”

“Yeah. I’m feeling better.”


Further back in time, I have just taken a seat in a taxi, stepping into the unknown for half an hour or so.

The conversation began as soon as I had gotten into the cab. The turbaned driver noticed my appearance. I was clearly a rabbinical student and he was clearly delighted.

He introduced himself as an avid fan of religion. He was raised in the south of India. He studied the holy books of various faiths and appreciated teachings found in them all.

I thought to introduce him to the Seven Noahide Laws, but G‑d had other plans for me that ride.

“Let me tell you,” the driver told me, his lonely captive audience. “I have learned far more in a couple of years driving a taxi in this American city than in all my years of study. And that is because there are many Jews in this area. I often have Jewish passengers.”

I noticed that he seemed in no particular hurry. But at least he was interesting.

My driver proceeding to reel off an endless string of anecdotes. It was years ago, but I vividly recall a couple of them.

“There was one elderly Jewish lady. We were proceeding as usual when a sudden siren sounded in the distance, gradually drawing closer. I do not recall whether it was an ambulance or police car, but I noticed that my passenger turned white and began trembling. I expressed concerned for her welfare, but she assured me she was fine. Keep driving, she told me, and let me do the worrying.

“Once the siren subsided, she explained that she had been a girl in the Holocaust. She described the scenes of Nazi soldiers rounding up the Jews and the terrible atrocities that followed. Ever since then, she told me, she panics when she hears sirens. She freezes when she sees a policeman. She is an elderly lady, but her fear has not dissipated. That, she told me, is the depths to which people can affect others.”

“From this Jewish lady,” my wise driver continued, “I learned just how profoundly our actions effect another person. This is indeed taught in the holy books of religions, but it cannot be truly learned without witnessing such an experience!”

“I had another Jewish passenger,” said my new Indian guide, “and we were running late. There was an unusual amount of traffic for that hour. It was crawling horribly. I apologized for the delay, but the Jewish gentleman blew me away. He told me not to worry because everything G‑d does is for the best!

“I asked him why he assumed this traffic might be from G‑d, and why it might be for the best.

“He responded that only G‑d knows, but perhaps a bad accident was destined to occur at a certain junction along our route that evening. Without the traffic, we may have been passing at the precise time of the accident and gotten caught up in the carnage. Frustration at traffic and the inconvenience of arriving late are a minor price to pay for safety of life or limb.”

“Ah, the Jews! I always glean insight from them! Many people tell me they believe in G‑d. But this gentleman truly believes in G‑d’s presence in his life. Even to the precise minute on his wristwatch and the precise flow of traffic around him!

“You know, some of my passengers fume when the going is slow. Some of them curse terribly when they miss an appointment. But this fellow seemed glad that he may have been spared something far worse. He was patient because G‑d was personally directing his life! It is amazing, I tell you! Sir, many people read books about G‑d, but my Jewish passengers carry G‑d inside them!”

Was he truly from Southern India, I wondered. Perhaps the turbaned driver was Elijah the Prophet in Indian disguise?

“A Jewish lady was travelling with a boy. Young in age but wise at heart.

I immediately regretted leaving my radio running

“I had left my radio on when she entered the taxi. The news was about a war in which many people were being killed. The reports greatly disturbed the boy and I immediately regretted leaving my radio running.”

“Is war bad?” he asked anxiously.

“Yes, fighting is never good,” replied his mother.

The youngster gazed about him in alarm.

“Are they fighting here?”

“No dear, it is far away in another part of the world. You don’t need to worry about that. But it is still not good, no matter where it is.”

“What happens in war?”

“People get shot and die.”

“Does it hurt to die? What happens when people die?”

The child was clearly anxious.

The mother paused for a moment and I was most curious to hear her reply. How would she downplay the severity and pain, the fear of death and hurt? How would she shelter him from the disturbing reports he had heard? But she did not do that.

When her reply came, its depth stole my breath.

“When people die, their soul goes to heaven. Yes, it is sad, and yes, it sometimes hurts for a time. But there is something far worse, my dear. There is something more painful. It is spiritual death. People who do bad things to others – the soul inside them dies.

“We must try to do as much good as possible in this world. That way, even if we die, our soul will go to heaven.

“Doing bad things, hurting our own souls, is worse than being hurt in a war. So we will do as many good things as possible, okay? That way, only our body will die when we are very old, but our soul will live and remain healthy forever.”


“That child was very young,” my Indian companion insisted. “Although he was bright, I could not tell just how much he understood his mother’s wise words. But he heard and was apparently comforted. He gazed out of the windows with a bright confidence in his eyes. I could imagine he was thinking about all the good he would do to make his soul live.

“More than comforted, he looked empowered. His good would be mightier than any evil!

“As for me, I had a hard time concentrating on the road after that. I just told the lady, ‘Madam, that was the most beautiful reply I have ever heard! I thank you with all my heart!’

“I’m telling you,” the driver turned to me as he patiently anticipated a green, “in all my studies, I have never learned as much as from studying the Jews who enter my taxi!”

Elijah was clearly emotional. But I did not mind the prophet taking almost twice the expected time to transport me to my destination. Not because his ceaseless chatter in an unmistakable accent had possibly saved me from an accident at some intersection, although that may well have been the case. Rather, he had removed the veil on everyday Jewish interaction and bared the light of its soul.


A total of 36 lights are kindled on the menorah during Chanukah (excluding the service candle). And in Psalm 36, David King of Israel proclaims:

“For with You is the Source of Life; in Your light we will see light.”

King David did not state the obvious, that G‑d is the Source of all life. Rather, he insisted that the Source of life is “with You,” just one of the recipes in G‑d’s cookbook. G‑d is indeed the constant and intimate source of all life and existence down to the precise flow of traffic and the determined ticking of a wristwatch. But He is also infinitely beyond and greater than that at the very same time.

For a mitzvah is a flame, and the Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23).

In Your light we will see light. We experience physical light and life, joy and pleasure. But it is all fleeting and dim compared to Your light – the radiance of the divine soul, the divinity with which we connect when studying G‑d’s Torah or fulfilling a decree of His will, experiencing closeness to G‑d Himself beyond even the supernal source of life.

True life is the life of the soul; when corporeal life is illuminated by the spirit it can also be considered life. True light is G‑d’s closeness; when our deeds serve as conductors to allow G‑d’s light to illuminate the Earth our light be considered illumination.

The flames of a menorah are soul lights. Small and outnumbered by forces of dark. But infinitely more powerful and omnipresent than them all. These flames are more than a response. They are a solution.

True life is the life of the soul

These lights that we kindle amid darkness are sacred. They are all that will prevail when Your Light will be installed on Earth and the Source of Life shall be revealed. In that imminent era, G‑d Himself in all His Essence will make His home on Earth, combining infinity with finite. His presence will activate billions of good deeds performed over millennia, countless connection points fashioned by mortals that await divine activation. Souls will return in renewed bodies because even the brightest heavens will appear dim in comparison to the Infinite Light radiating from an Earth that has entered a state of eternal Chanukah.

Yaakov Paley, originally from Britain, now lives in the States with his family and enjoys seeking the soul within the commonplace.
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