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Global Warming and the Power of the Chanukah Lights

November 28, 2010

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.

Thanks and Giving

November 24, 2010 3:04 PM

I was speaking with my children about Chanukah and the importance of recognizing and publicizing the miracles in our lives, when an interesting point was raised. My kids asked if there was a connection to the Jewish people celebrating Chanukah at the very time of year that Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. I had never really thought in depth about Thanksgiving before, but upon reflection I realized that the name is fascinating. Thanks and Giving. Now, clearly it is known to be a day for being grateful for what we have and for giving thanks, however, that is not what the name of the day actually says. It is not Thanksgiven for what we have been given. Or ThanksReceived, for what we received. But rather, two very different ideas that coincide and join together as one. There is the idea of "thanks" and there is the idea of "giving."

And since the Torah teaches that everything is Divine Providence, therefore it is not mere coincidence that the name of this day carries great significance and teaching. And like my children noticed, that it always falls out during the month of Cheshvan or Kislev, the month in which Chanukah falls.

Chanukah is the festival of lights. We celebrate our miraculous victory over the Greeks and specifically how one tiny vial of oil, not even enough to last for one day, burned for eight days. And we celebrate Chanukah by lighting our menorah, each day increasing in the amount of wicks we ignite, thereby adding more light to the world around us.

Yet interestingly enough, the month of Cheshvan and the month of Kislev in which Chanukah falls, are the months with the shortest days and longest nights. What this means is that this is the time in which there are the fewest hours of light and the most hours of dark. When we are in the dark, it is hard to see what we have. It is hard to appreciate or even acknowledge what is around us. In the dark it is easy to feel lost, forlorn, as if there is nothing that can save us. So how do we counter that? We add light. We start with one flame and we steadily increase. And what do we see? That all it takes is a little light to dispel a lot of darkness. That even if we only have one flame, the power of the flame is that it can ignite another without diminishing of itself, and that flame can continue to light yet another and another until the light overtakes the darkness.

So back to Thanksgiving, I realized that there is a beautiful lesson, a lesson that we learn and live every Chanukah. How is it that we give thanks? How is it that we show that we truly are appreciative of what we have in our lives? It is not by merely being thankful, but by being active in that thanks, and active thanks is expressed through GIVING. If I want to truly thank you, I will turn around and do something positive, helpful. And the more I give, the more I have to be thankful for, as through giving to others, we are able to truly appreciate what we have for ourselves.

And it is interesting that Americans celebrate Thanksgiving by eating Turkey. The word for Turkey in Hebrew is hodo which is from the word hod meaning "thanks." After all, as said above, everything is Divine Providence so hard to ignore the fact that the very food eaten on Thanksgiving means "thanks" in Hebrew!

So as our fellow Americans eat their Turkey and as we prepare to head into our festival of lights, may we always be blessed to remember that we not only have much to be grateful for, but that in order to express our thanks, we must give. And even if it appears that we are only giving a little, when we remember that we are a flame, then we will remember that all it takes is the ability to ignite one other wick to start the chain reaction of bringing more light into this world!

What's the latest news? For that information, check your local or national news outlet. In this blog we will discuss the "why?"

Not "why did this event occur?" but "why did I find out about it?" There must be a reason. It must contain a lesson I can use to better myself and my surroundings. Together we will find the lessons...
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