Hanukkah (Image credit: N Sher)
How could he think of it! It's a wonder he could think at all. Where did he get the clarity to rise above the most wretched reality to even remember Hanukkah candles in the Warsaw Ghetto?
The tumultuous reality of everyday life in the ghetto swung menacingly above the heads of its inhabitants and threatened to come crashing down and demolish one’s slowly ebbing life force without any warning or restraint.
With all the uncertainties that could propel one into certain death at any moment, one could hardly expect even the most elevated, hardy soul to think about a traditional observance.
But he did.
Acquiring any morsel of bread presented a challenge and most certainly cost a lot. Still, he did not spare any effort or expense to acquire Hanukkah candles to light in the ghetto.
Miraculously his little girl was still with him in the ghetto when he lit the Hanukkah candles. Some time after he had no choice but to have his child smuggled out of the ghetto and given to a non-Jewish family that was willing to take her. There was no guarantee that even sending her out would be accomplished successfully. It meant entrusting her to the numerous perils of trying to escape the ghetto into the unknown hands of strangers. But what was known was that the ghetto’s imminent liquidation would make the child's chance of survival zero.
Following the miracle of his survival, after having endured pernicious challenges that defy human understanding, he was able to trace his daughter’s whereabouts after the war. Many of the adoptive parents who took in children from the ghetto were not anxious to return the child to their family, and sadly many did not have to because no one survived to seek them out.
After an excruciating interaction between him and the adoptive parents he was able to retrieve his child and take her home. The trauma that his child endured is beyond our understanding, but we can understand why she was unsettled and unhappy with her real father. She wanted to return to her adoptive parents because they were the only ones she remembered - she was too young when her father had to send her out of the ghetto, she had no memory of him and no conscious attachment to this stranger.
The hysteria and unremitting unsettled behavior with which she demanded to be returned to the only parents she knew was the final coup de grace to her real father's heart. Perhaps he survived the conflagration of the war for nothing. What could he do? Who could possibly tell him what to do to resolve such an impossibly tragic dilemma?
And then Hanukkah came.
The father lit the Hanukkah candles, as he had done in the tumultuous horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto, as he had done all his life. The Hanukkah candles ignited an imperceptible spark. The candles triggered a memory deep within his child's subconscious that transformed her soul. She remembered the colored candles that she had seen lit on Hanukkah in the ghetto before she was taken from her father.
These candles truly illuminated the child's path back through her memory towards remembering her real father. We know that even one candle can illuminate the most pervasive darkness, but it can also illuminate the incandescent nook in the deepest recesses of the soul. A candle lit for the sake of a Mitzvah (Leshem Mitzvah) has the power to transcend and illuminate the most pervasive darkness in dimensions above and beyond the physical sphere.
At the time of the Maccabees, whose victory we celebrate on Hanukkah, it was not the entire Jewish population that supported their activities. Similarly, in the Warsaw Ghetto not everyone supported the ghetto inhabitants’ activities against the Germans. We dare not pass judgement on them; no one can know what they themselves would do when confronted with the incessant pressures of survival. It takes an enormous amount of distance and historical perspective to be confident that one isn't left on the wrong side.
When we light a candle that reflects the luminosity contained in our souls, the glow is not confined to the physical parameters of our private space. When fueled with spiritual clarity and holiness, we can reach beyond unmatchable configurations across space and time. Curiously, quantum physics contends that no light is ever destroyed, but rather is transformed instead.
The story of Hanukkah did not start during the period of the Maccabees. It was only revealed to us then during that period as part of the destiny of the Jewish Nation. The twenty-fifth word in the Bible is light (“...and let there be light" [Vayehi Ohr]) and the holiday of Hanukkah starts on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev.
May we all witness the culmination of our Nation’s task to illuminate the world and reveal our Creator’s Blessings to all. We can do it with a candle, and even with a smile. May it be Bayamim Hahem Bazman Hazeh (as in those days at this time).