Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chanukah - One Spark

The battle of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days are often treated as discrete phenomena. What after all does a military victory have to do with oil burning for eight days. The Al Hanissim prayer hardly mentions the miracle of the oil, instead it focuses on the military victory in the following terms. "Gibborim beyad Halashim veRabim BeYad Meatim", the strong fell into the hands of the weak and the many into the hands of the few. Only then could the lights be lit in the holy temple.

Last week's parsha, Parshas Vayeishev begins with a curious Rashi. After the previous parsha's conclusion had described the descendants of Edom and all the kings of Edom who had ruled before a single king had ruled in Israel, Parshas Vayeishev mentions the Toldos of Yaakov as being Yosef. And the Rashi uses a parable to explain that.

A flax merchant led a caravan of camels through the street loaded with flax. A blacksmith standing by the side of his small shop wondered out loud, "Anah yikones kol hapishtan hazeh?" Where will all this flax go. There's no room for it.

"Hayah pikeach echad meishiv lo," "One wise man told him", "Nitotz echad", one spark emerging from your forge would burn it all. But what kind of answer is this? The blacksmith wants to know where all the flax will go, and the supposed wise man tells him that a spark from his forge would destroy it. That doesn't answer his question.

Yet Rashi brings this down to explain the long list of Edomite kings in relation to Yaakov's much smaller family. "Mi yachol likevosh et kulon?" Yaakov wondered. And so Rashi quotes Ovadiah, "Vehayah Beit Yaakov Eish, uBeit Yosef Lehavah". And the House of Jacob will be flame and the House of Yosef a firestorm.

Often enough Jewish leaders had a similar reaction to confronting a massive empire. When the descendants of Yaakov left Egypt, the Meraglim toured the land and pulled back asserting that no one could possibly conquer it. Yehoshua, who was a descendant of Beit Yosef, asserted that with divine help we could. He was one of two men, a minority within a group from a small nation, and yet forty years later, Nitzotz Echad, that one spark consumed the land of Canaan.

A few centuries before Chanukah the Persian Empire decided to give the order for all its conquered peoples to wipe out the Jews. And at the gate sat one descendant of Binyamin. And when all of Haman's plans had come to naught, his wife and advisers warned him, "Im Mizera HaYehudim Mordechai HaYehudi Asher Hinhalta Linfol Lefanav, Lo Tuchal Lo Ki Nafal Tipol Lefanav". And the viceroy of the Persian Empire failed to prevail against that one spark.

Once again on Chanukah the few faced off against the many, against the forces of an empire and its collaborators. How could they possibly prevail against it? Like the poor blacksmith they stood studying the caravans of flax and wondering where it would all fit. But this was the advice of the wise man. The nature of flax is different than the nature of fire. A single spark outweighs all the flax.

Maccabee stood for Mi Kamocha Baeilim Hashem, their battlecry was Mi LeHashem Eilai. That spark was what consumed the flax. It was what burned for eight days. Flax is inert. Once it is loaded on a camel it is another dead substance. But flame has energy. As long as it is exposed to air then it is attached to its source of life.

Evil is described as already dead. "Reshoim Behayeichem Kruim Meitim, Tzaddikim BeMitatam Kruim Chayim" The wicked are considered dead even while alive and the good are considered alive even while dead. Yaakov was considered alive even after death, while Esav was considered dead even while alive. Why is that? Because evil has cut itself off from the source of life that is G-d, while good remains attached to it even in death. That is the source of the Nitotz Echad that can burn oil for eight days or armies of empires alike.

Time and time again the Nitotz Echad has emerged and the flax has gone up in flames, whether it is the armies of Sancheriv or the armies of seven arab nations. It takes only a single spark to rout evil. But the important thing is to remember it is there.

The enraptured blacksmith was too busy looking at the scale of the flax to realize its nature and to remember the flame that he possessed. It took the Pikeach, the wise man whose eyes were open, to remind him of him that. While you stand gazing at the flax, back in your shack is a flame that will put all that flax to shame, that would consume it all if you only remembered what it is capable of.


  1. "The blacksmith wants to know where all the flax will go, and the supposed wise man tells him that a spark from his forge would destroy it." That doesn't answer his question.
    It's like observing a interview with an American politician and the docile media - the answer not relevent to the question.
    Yet, while we ". . .stand gazing at the flax, back in your [our]shack is a flame that will put all that flax to shame [flame], that would consume it all if you only remembered what it is capable of."
    But we live in our moment, looking neither forward nor backwardd at our vulnerabilities.

    1. He answered the attitude behind the question, that there was no reason to be awed by the size, but to consider its nature.