The Infinite Leak

I’m writing this to alert you that there’s a leak in the system. By the time you read this, it may already be stopped. That’s what happened last year, and the year before, and every other year since this phenomenon began. This year, we’re hoping the leak never gets plugged. In fact, it needs to get a whole lot bigger. A massive leak.

Originally, the system was built fairly leak-proof. But a little over two thousand years ago, a couple of tough Jewish warriors punched a hole right through its wall. Ever since then, every year when we light our Chanukah menorahs, light from beyond the system leaks in through those flames. Infinite light.

The infinite light of the seven days of creation.

You may have heard of that light. It happened when that “When G‑d was about to create the heavens and the earth, the earth being amazingly empty with darkness over the surface of deepness and a divine wind sweeping over the surface of the water” and He said, “Hold on. What’s this all about? Why am I creating heaven and earth?” And that’s when He said, “It should be light.”

The meaning of everything is to shine with meaning.

As to say: The meaning of everything about to be created is to shine with meaning. And G‑d looked at that light-idea, and He said, “That’s good. But I don’t want the meaning of each thing to be out there in the open. I want the beings I’m about to create to discover it on their own. So I’m hiding it.”

And He ripped out that Infinite light and hid it outside the system.

The system. That’s made of seven days. Because it’s a closed system, a finite box. A box has six sides, plus its internal space, and that makes seven.

Which is why the universe was created in seven days. Which is why a week has seven days. Which is why the menorah that Moses made, and that stood in King Solomon’s Temple, and in the second Temple as well, had seven branches with seven lamps. Because the light that shone from there was a light that belongs within the cosmic system.

But the menorah you light on Chanukah has eight lamps. Eight is beyond the system. For eight days, the hidden light shines.

That also explains a few more anomalies of your Chanukah menorah. The Temple menorah was lit during the day—an hour and a quarter before dark. Yours is lit at night.

The Temple menorah was lit in a holy place, a place where only the kohanim of the Temple tread, and only at permitted times. From there it shone out to the entire world. Your menorah is lit in your house, on the street, in a shopping mall—wherever people are there to see those lights and be made aware of the miracle of Chanukah. Your menorah light doesn’t have to reach out to the world—it’s out there in the world already.

The Temple menorah was lit as long as the Temple stood. Your menorah has shone through close to two thousand years since the Temple was destroyed, in every circumstance imaginable and unimaginable, in the face of every form of persecution. It never goes out.

Because it is infinite light. It knows no bounds. It belongs everywhere, inside and outside. Light and dark is all the same when you’re infinite.

Infinite Critics

“Hold on!” you’ll say. “Are you telling me that King Solomon’s temple was a natural, inside-the-box place? What’s the point of a holy temple if it’s just another chunk of the finite cosmic system?”

When you entered the Temple courtyard, you were beyond space, beyond time, beyond world.

Truth be told, the ancient Temple in Jerusalem was a very out-of-this-world place. The crowd would be packed together like sardines, and when it came time for them to prostrate themselves, suddenly there was room for everybody. People came there and saw the divine, the infinite light. It was an experience beyond anything that could be perceived through prophecy. Because when you entered the Temple courtyard, the whole world disappeared for you. You were beyond space, beyond time, beyond world. You didn’t even feel your own existence. You felt that there was nothing, nothing else but the One Isness of All That Is. And you took that light home with you for the whole year.

That light shone out to the entire world. In the days of King Solomon’s Temple there was peace—everywhere. Because that light shone everywhere. The sparks of holiness throughout the world were touched and pulled in by the great magnet of the Menorah and the Ark of Covenant in the Temple. It was as though the world’s very existence melted away before that light.

How do you get more infinite than that?

Deep question. Needs a deep parable. This one is from Reb Berel Wolf Kozovnikov, who was the chief rabbi of Ekaterinoslav, Ukraine (now known as Dnepropetrovsk) until 1908.

Three people are sitting on a bench in an art gallery, staring at the same painting.

Okay, let’s bring this up to date: Three movies critics are sitting at Starbucks after screening a new movie.

One critic is all excited. “What a great story! What powerful drama! And the eye-candy was out of this world! Everything fit together so exquisitely, you could tell it could only have been written, produced and directed by a single person.”

The second critic brews with aggravation. “Listen, I know the writer-producer-director personally. I see him daily. He’s a deep person. A wise person. ‘Genius’’ would be an insult for him. I don’t get what he’s doing wasting his time with a story like this. For such a great mind, the whole thing is nonsense!”

The third sits deep in thought. And then he responds, “I also know the producer. Yes, a deep, profoundly deep person. And that’s what amazes me—how he managed to invest all that depth into a simple storyline with ordinary characters.”

There is everything. And in everything, there is nothing but Him.

The first critic is Abraham. He looked at the world, perceived its magnificent harmony and wonder, and realized what should have been obvious to all: This entire universe could only have behind it all a single Writer-Producer-Director.

The second critic is that Jew standing in the Temple courtyard. He comes face-to-face with the Divine Presence. Nothing else exists. Everything but this experience is vanity of vanities.

The third critic is us, as we will be soon standing in the messianic era. The world exists. Every detail of it is real. Because its every detail is nothing more than another way of packaging infinite light in a finite form. Such an infinite light, it has no problem with being discovered within any form of finite existence it so pleases.

Maimonides writes it at the very opening of his Book of Knowledge: “Whatever exists, from heaven to earth and everything in between, only exists out of the reality of His existence.”

There is everything. And in everything, there is nothing but Him.

We get an inkling of that every Chanukah, with a menorah that isn’t stuck inside a holy place, but belongs everywhere, and makes even darkness shine.

Get this: The light of Chanukah is such a great light that it doesn’t shine on Passover, or on Rosh Hashanah or even on Yom Kippur. And yet, those days are holy days. Chanukah days are weekdays.

Because for this light, there is holiness everywhere, at all times. Because G‑d is everywhere.

Infinite Elephants

How did those Maccabees go about punching that hole in the system?

By taking on armored elephants.

Tell me, if you’re a rational, normal person, and there’s an army of thousands of well-trained soldiers coming at you and a handful of your brothers, with elephants to boot, which direction do you run? Go say some Psalms in a cave somewhere! Why are you running to battle?

But this was not a reasonable battle. The Maccabees didn’t go into battle thinking, “Maybe we will win, maybe we will die, but at least we’ll show them we have something to stand for.” No, that would be too reasonable. The Maccabees were unreasonable.

Their reaction was the same as David, as a young man, when he went to slay Goliath. David’s older brothers scoffed at him, “The guy’s a giant! A monster! He’ll just step on you and crush you like an ant!”

And all young David had to say was, “He’s insulting the G‑d of Israel! I’m taking him on!”

David couldn’t understand why he should fear a giant. The Maccabees didn’t see why they should fear elephants. There is only one true reality, and everything else can only express that reality. One expression of that reality might be rain from heaven, another a Temple in Jerusalem, another an armored elephant. Nothing could possibly oppose its own essential meaning, not even a Greek elephant.

That is the truly amazing thing about this world in which we live: That the meaning of each thing far transcends its finite boundaries.

That is the truly amazing thing about this world in which we live: That the meaning of each thing far transcends its finite boundaries. Nothing is what it appears to be.

That’s what those Maccabees saw when they went to battle. The elephants were real, the warriors and their swords and arrows were facts on the ground—only that in those elephants and in those opponents they saw a reality far beyond the neat, reasonable cosmic box their Hellenist opponents so much adored. They saw a meaning that was not to be feared, but embraced. And so from there they drew light—light for which there is no darkness; light that made elephants into mice and mighty armies into cowards. An eternal light that can never be opposed.

How To Do Infinite

Getting practical: There’s two ways to live out your mission here on earth. The Temple Menorah method, and the Chanukah Menorah method.

The Temple Menorah method relies on a maxim of our sages, “Everything you do should be for a higher purpose.”

In practical terms, that means that when you sit down to eat, you shouldn’t just eat because you’re hungry and “Hey, what do you expect a living organism to do when it’s hungry and there’s food in the fridge?”

No, you have to attach a higher purpose to this eating. What’s your higher purpose? Studying Torah. Doing mitzvahs. Reading long and overly complex essays such as these at

And in order to do those things, being a living organism, you need caloric intake, which means you have to eat. Now you’re eating with a higher purpose.

Or you have to go to work. Why? Because you went to work yesterday. Because if you don’t, a lot of people are going to be really upset. Because you have a career—I mean, everyone has to have a career, don’t they?

No, no, no! You’re going to work so you can earn money to pay for your kids’ tuition at the local Hebrew Day School. So you can put out a nice spread for all your guests at the Shabbat meal. So you can contribute to worthy causes and help out those who aren’t blessed with a job that pays real money as does yours.

That’s called a higher purpose. It’s a meaningful way of life. But it has its limitations. Because it leaves anything that isn’t directly a mitzvah on the outside. A mitzvah, a Torah teaching, an act of kindness, those have meaning in and of their own. Eating, working, sleeping, playing, shopping and everything else—if you could do without it, all the better.

Fundamentally: You’re getting light out there, shining through those activities. But the thing itself, that remains essentially dark and outside.

So there’s another method, driven by the maxim found in Proverbs, “Know Him in all your ways.”

The Baal Shem Tov would say, “Everything you see or hear is a lesson in how you connect to your Maker.”

You’re eating. That’s a way of knowing G‑d. You’re making an honest living. Another way of knowing G‑d. Software engineering, creative accounting, playing music, playing with your kids or with friends—there’s meaning there. As the Baal Shem Tov would say, “Everything you see or hear is a lesson in how you connect to your Maker.” Because the Infinite Light is everywhere. It only awaits you to expose it.

As the world is now, exposing that light everywhere is much more difficult than it sounds. It only really works when we immerse ourselves in Torah wisdom every evening and first thing in the day. And when even during the day, we would rather be in that spiritual, divine place. In that mode of being, that’s when we start seeing sparks of light everywhere.

But soon, the light of Chanukah will be everywhere, always. “The entire occupation of the world will be only to know G‑d.”

Because that’s what this whole system was about from the beginning: That all of it, every detail of it, should be light.

Like it says, “And G‑d saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”

Based on the Maamar L’havin Inyan Ner Chanukah 5726. See also Tanu Rabanan Mitzvah Ner Chanukah 5738.