Second Thoughts: Candles in the Desert

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Menorah Candles
18 Dec 2008

Fire. It’s a powerful, primal force. Just the word itself gets your adrenalin going, ready to start coursing through your veins! Unconstrained, it is one of the most destructive forces in the world. Contained, limited, controlled it is one of the most powerful tools given to mankind.

Those eight tiny sparks of light we kindle each year on the 25th of Kislev are not only a witness and potent reminder of a miracle of long ago. They are an emotional experience which evokes countless memories and images … of ancient history, Torah, G-d and Am Yisrael; of family and childhood associations; of stories, adventures, or lo aleinu (it should not befall us), catastrophes. A flame is a flickering picture, a reflection of whatever is stored in our minds and hearts.

Maaleh Adumim is a relatively young city, full of flickering lights. A short walk around the outskirts brings to mind the description in Tehillim – Yerushalayim harim saviv lah – Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains. So is Maaleh Adumim. Twenty minutes out of Jerusalem on the way down to Jericho, the “Red Heights” of Maaleh Adumim are surrounded by sandy, rounded mountains each of which is crowned with a candle and a flame. In a semi-circle (albeit a somewhat uneven one) around the lovely desert town, one can count eight different yishuvim – Jewish areas of settlement. Sitting astride the dry, brown landscape, you can see eight green, leafy oases dotting the mountaintops. Like bright, red flowers, the red roofs of thousands of Jewish homes smile up at the sun.

But the best time is at night. That’s when the lights of Jewish homes and settlements turn into a giant candelabra embracing Maaleh Adumim. And along the long, empty miles down to Jericho, the sparks of Jewish labor and love illuminate the desert under it’s blue-black sky. For when Jewish souls fill the Land and Jewish hands touch its soil, the Land of Israel glows and springs to radiant life.

Jericho is a natural, green oasis in the dry Bekah Valley. It was the gateway into Eretz Yisrael, the place where Am Yisrael first entered the Land, and it was connected to Jerusalem, the heart of the country. The Medrash tells us that the scent of the Ketoret (incense offering) in the Bet Hamikdash wafted all the way down to Jericho. Maaleh Adumim sits halfway between the two cities. Originally part of the surrounding desert, it has turned into a mini-garden of Eden – a green, luxuriant city full of flowers, grass, palm trees and people. Jewish people. Jericho is a natural phenomenon; Maaleh Adumim is the product of Jewish labor and love.

One hot summer day, over twenty years ago, a groundbreaking ceremony was held on a neighboring hill. The initiators waved their arms and proclaimed: “Look over there!” I looked. There was nothing to see except another utterly empty, sandy hillside. “A city will stand there!” Well, I thought, maybe yes; maybe no. Who knows? The most memorable part of the ceremony was the free ice cream they passed out in the ninety-five degree heat. Today I go into our busy neighborhood store or into the thriving mall for my ice cream. (It’s not free anymore….)

So here I am, living in that dream city with its thousands of nighttime lights illuminating the desert sands like a reflection of G-d’s own celestial skies. And surrounding us are eight flourishing, flickering flames, lit by Abraham’s descendants. Just as G-d promised, they multiply … like the stars in the sky and the sand on the shore.

The Maccabim fought a war for Torah and Jewish spiritual purity. They fought against the greatest kingdom and culture of their time. They began as a miniscule group of radicals and extremists who seemingly endangered the welfare of the country by opposing the ruling powers that be. They cared not one whit for those powers nor for the cosmopolitan opinion of their more “enlightened” peers. And indeed, Chazal declared for all time that those rational, “enlightened” peers and the “enlightened”, dominating Greek culture brought only darkness to the world while the naïve, provincial Chashmonaim brought eternal light – the light of G-d.

The sparks of the Chashmonai revolt against the Greek-Syrian Antiochus still burn in our homes for eight nights every Kislev, bringing hope and strength and joy to Am Yisrael. And the eight collections of Jewish lights surrounding the brightly lit city of Maaleh Adumim bring hope and strength and joy to my heart. Not only during Kislev, but every night of the year. I know the Maccabim are smiling at us and at all of the other naïve, provincial, “unenlightened” Jews who by their very presence and their love, are relighting the menorah day after day in the midst of our own contemporary cultural war.

When will it all end? When will we be privileged to relight the Menorah in the Temple itself? How long will it take? I have no idea. But we’re on the right road. From Jericho – the entrance to the Land of Israel – via Maaleh Adumim – to Jerusalem, the Eternal City of G-d. Have a “lightful” Chanuka!

© 2008 Yaffa Ganz. Yaffa Ganz is the award winning author of more than forty Jewish children’s books including Sand and Stars – a 2000 year saga of Jewish history for teen readers. Her latest book – “A Different Dimension” published by Hamodia Publishers – is an anthology of essays on contemporary Jewish life.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.