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Study and Theory/

Dotan Brom

These candles that we light

The Jewish festivals alike the festivals of all the nations of the world, are layers upon layers of myths and interpretations. Each and every generation adds to the generations that preceded them new myths and interprets the old myths, according to the values that lead it. Every generation chooses from the traditions of the festival that which it desires, and there are generations that create traditions from nothing.

From time to time, a new event comes into the world – such a sensational event in the lives of the generation until it becomes a monument that must be commemorated each and every year, to educate the future generations about it. By nature, festivals, and the Jewish festivals do not differ in this rule, are dips and valleys in the landscape of the year, to which the events near to them flow, to those that are over the watershed line of the date or the theme. If we look into the valley, into the centre of the festival, that which passes through all the layers of the generations, we will discover its main point which is almost always the relationship between man and nature, The festivals of Israel are at their basis interpretations by the ancient Hebrews of the world, and the attempt by the community to influence the world surrounding it.

Thus too the Festival of Lights. The days are the days of the end of Kislev. It is cold in the world and darkness over the abyss. The days are becoming shorter, and also the moon is getting smaller. It seems that the darkness will shut out all the light shortly, that the night will swallow up the dawn of the light of day. The ancient Hebrew is fearful and he looks at the sky becoming darker earlier every night. And what will happen if the light disappears completely? What will happen if it never returns? The darkness threatens to shake the cultural institutions of man (and not in vain did their G-d place the Egyptians into darkness in Egypt). Man was left with two choices – the first, to give into the darkness – to put on the lights in the world. The Hebrews alike the majority of the world, chose the second option. And thus, the ancient Hebrew lights a candle on the evening of the 25th of Kislev and hopes to light up the entire universe. On the next evening, when he discovers that the light is continuing to fade, he lights two candles, and so forth. He adds one more and another every night until he has lit all the eight candles on the eve of the 1st of Tevet. On that same evening the magic takes place – that is the fateful moment in which man has lit enough light and is able to turn the wheels of the world. The moon starts to become larger. The days start to become longer. The light returns.

The days pass and the custom becomes ingrained. Every year on the same date the Hebrew lights up (and in time – the Jews) their candles. When a new festival comes into the world – the celebration for harvesting olives, it is assimilated into the Festival of Lights (the date is sufficiently close and the theme of the celebration is to produce olive oil, which was the basis of the oil menorahs, the theme is assimilated with the return of the light). One generation goes and one comes and each generation adds its own interpretations and stories – including the jar of oil and the divine saviour in the Diaspora; the revolt of the Maccabees and the national resurrection in the days of Zionism.

The interpretations change, the stories are replaced. Each generation and its Chanukah. However one way or another, each and every year the House of Israel lights eight candles in the dark and lights up the world.

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