There is a commandment, during Hanukah, the Festival of Lights, to light the menorah. It’s a message of triumph, of hope, that we renew each year, night after night, building the excitement with each new candle. Hanukah is the story of a miracle, of impossible becoming reality because of faith, God’s help, and hope. It is a story of triumph – the weak defeating the strong, and a story of endurance, of a simple, small jug of oil that should have lasted only 1 day lasting 8 days until a new supply of oil was available.
All these miracles are made known to the world, simply by placing a menorah in the window and lighting it. It brings joy to those who walk down the street and look, window after window, at the beautiful candles.
We light the menorah in the window facing the street so that others can see. Tonight we light the third candle and three of my children will be home. My daughter has her own home. I miss having her with us, miss having her menorah burn with the others, but there is no sadness there. She is with her husband; there they will light in their own home and begin creating their own joys. I cannot feel sadness that she isn’t at home even though a part of me wishes that she was still the little girl whose hand we held as she guided the shamash candle to light the others. And so, as often happens, my thoughts go to the child who is not a child, to the boy who won’t be home tonight and who won’t be in a home of his own. I have two emotions in my heart right now – pride and disappointment.
Elie was home for Shabbat, going back to the army Sunday morning. That meant he was not home even for the lighting of the first candle. There have been times over the years that one or more of my children wasn’t home on a particular night. They might have taken part in lighting at a friend’s house or at a yeshiva or at school, but there has never been a time when a child of mine missed every night, not being home at least once during the whole of these eight nights of Hanukah.
Elie missed the first night and was to have missed the next six, but he was scheduled to come home on Sunday, thus joining us for the final candle lighting, the most beautiful and glorious of the nights – when the menorah is full and the window reflects all the burning candles. And so, I am disappointed. He called to tell me that the plans have shifted; no surprise there. He’s not unhappy because he’ll be home the following weekend, and soon for a week’s vacation from the army as well.
But his not being home on Sunday was a surprise, though balanced a bit, by what he just told me on the phone. There is a chance, just a chance, only a chance, that the army is organizing something for the parents to be with their sons one night this week. I’m waiting to hear, hoping it’s true.
And the pride. “Elie, did they give you a menorah to light?” It’s a silly concern. The commandment is one that can be performed by a single person for a room of people. One must light; the others must see. Judaism is a religion that focuses on life, reveres life, commands one to choose life and so the guarding of life is of paramount importance. The commandment to light candles is secondary to what Elie does on the checkpoint. Even if he can’t light, he has done no wrong…and yet the mother in me wants to know that he did, if at all possible, fulfill this commandment too.
Many families only light one menorah for the whole family; in our home, each person lights their own. We stand by the window, filled with so many candles and listen as each says the blessings. We sing together and enjoy dinner together. In Israel, there is a custom of eating jelly donuts, and so the first night and sometimes others as well, we share in this as well.
So, I asked if perhaps Elie had his own menorah – as he does at home, and did they let him light it. He laughed a bit and then told me that when the time came to light, he was stationed at the checkpoint. So, they closed the checkpoint for the two minutes it takes to light. They took the menorah into a small shelter they have there. The shelter has a window facing the checkpoint.
There, Elie and his soldiers lit the menorah, said the blessings and then, leaving the menorah in the window to announce the great miracles God performed for the people of Israel in their time of need, Elie and his soldiers returned to the checkpoint. I asked Elie to take a picture of the menorah, and if he does, I will post it here. But if he doesn’t, than maybe you can close your eyes, as I can, and see the scene.
Elie and his soldiers stand by the road, slowing traffic and checking the cars to make sure they aren’t smuggling weapons and things that can endanger our people. They are taught how to stand so that each is protected and protecting; all eyes aware and alert, and in the background to the side, there is a small shelter with a window, and a menorah that my son lit, and candles burning there in the dark.
I am so proud of him, so humbled by him. I’m sorry he wasn’t home to see us light our menorahs in the window of our home but somehow I think his menorah may have even more meaning. My son is a protector of his people, and last night he and his soldiers took a moment to recognize the greatest Protector of all, and the miracles that He does each day.