Netflix and the Flicker of the Menorah

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Squid Game, which contains “foul language, violence, sex, nudity, suicide, and smoking,” has gone on to become one of Netflix’s biggest shows of all time. The festival of Chanukah, which we are currently celebrating, has some light to throw on this pop cultural sensation.

When lighting candles was first instituted to celebrate and commemorate the miracle of Chanukah, Jewish families gathered outside to light their oil lamps in full public view. The lamps were kindled outside the home for centuries, spreading visual news of the miracle far and wide.

But then came exile, and among the many major and minor misfortunes it wrought was the discontinuation of this beautiful practice. The Jews of the Land of Israel were dispersed to frigid lands or among inhospitable peoples, and inclement weather or dangerous neighbors made lighting outside an impossibility. And so the practice of lighting the menorah inside one’s home was born, and it remains the custom until today.

The eminent modern mystic and poet Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook saw profound symbolism in the two different locations of the menorah. There are times, he said, when the Jew has the good fortune of spreading the menorah’s light, of enlightening the surrounding society. Lighting the menorah outside symbolizes our ability to illuminate the world with Jewish values, to bring light to the darkness.

Lighting the menorah inside, on the other hand, signifies not just prudent caution about our physical wellbeing, but concern for the hazards to our spiritual health. It is not a mere concession to a fallen reality but an intentional focus of the light inward. We bathe our homes in the light of the menorah, directing the light of Jewish values first and foremost to our own family.

As parents, visual media poses a distinct challenge. Strikingly, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are reported to have raised their children with limited screen time.

Part of striving to light up our homes with things that are consonant with Jewish values is ensuring that the screens illuminating the faces of our children are not projecting content that is spiritually objectionable. Squid Game, a show whose violence beggars belief, is emblematic of the steady stream of cultural events and undercurrents that are continuously clashing with our most precious Jewish values and sensitivities. The only way to keep this tide at bay is to beat it back, as the Maccabees did long ago. 

The sources that recount the Chanukah story exhibit a focus on tahara, purity. The desire to purify everything from all traces of Hellenistic taint was the impetus for the Maccabees to do battle against the vastly more numerous, and much better equipped and trained, Syrian-Greeks. Our ancestors were fully committed to protecting and preserving the purity of the Jewish home. 

The Jewish family remains resolute in protecting our dwellings from the noxious winds and destructive squalls outside, which may damage or attrite the spiritual or mental health of our most precious asset of all—our children. We cannot lay down our arms, ever.

As we gaze at the menorah’s flickering lights, we receive a spiritual recharge that enables us to keep carrying the torch. It strengthens our resolve as parents to foster a most nurturing environment, filled with brightness and warmth, to promote only the very best things for our children.