When a small amount means so much
Short essays on festivals, the weekly parsha and other articles.
[Genesis 37:1 – 40:23]
22nd December 2016 | 22 Kislev, 5777
Chanuka comes in the depth of winter; the shortest and darkest days of the year. It is a festival of light. The candles remind us of a small, but significant miracle from long ago. When there was only enough oil in the Temple to burn for one day, that small amount burnt, miraculously, for eight days instead.
It doesn’t seem like much – that we should remember it almost 2,500 years later. But it was. Because, given the circumstances, it was a clear sign of God’s love. And a little sign of love goes a long way.
I met my late wife Elana a”h when we worked as counsellors on an education programme together. As Orthodox Jews, we had tried to have a purely professional relationship. However, I had developed a respect and liking for her and suspected that she felt something similar. I approached a Rabbi who knew us both and he immediately set up a date for the next day. It was a bit quick but I did not want to let him or her down at that point, so I agreed. We were working together that day and Elana did not say a word to me; not a nod; not a wink; no sign that we were going out that evening. I started to feel uncertain. Maybe the Rabbi was just teasing? I started to feel insecure and nervous. I got myself into a real tizzy and my head started spinning. Fifteen minutes before we were due to go out, Elana went into the counsellors’ common room and I followed her with no idea what to do. She was rummaging in her locker, but sensed me nearby. She turned around and smiled a huge beaming smile at me – and suddenly I felt completely and utterly at ease. That one loving smile dispelled every ounce of insecurity and uncertainty that I had. A little bit of love goes a very long way. A little bit of kindness goes a very long way. Just a smile can do so much.
The underlying message of Chanuka, of course, is much broader. At a time when Greek ‘values’ were taking the world by storm, we Jews were not enamoured. Decadent gods, rampant materialism, competing to be the ‘best’. We didn’t buy it. And even when they tried to force their Hellenism upon us, the small but stubborn Jewish Nation was willing to give up everything for what it believed in – Monotheism, human beings as souls not bodies, absolute values and truth. We fought the superpower of the generation and chased them from our land and our lives. A small amount of spiritual light dispelled a great deal of darkness.
It’s amazing in how many areas a ‘small amount’ can go so far. A small amount of love. A small amount of insight. A small amount of conviction. A small amount of wisdom….
This is how I see it. We live in a seemingly restricted world that sometimes looks as though it stretches no further than our eyes can see or than our small-minded thinking can imagine. And then, we have an insight, we feel someone’s love for a moment, we find conviction in ourselves, we are touched by wisdom – and we get a glimpse, just a glimpse of a bigger, truer and more beautiful world. We realise that our world is so, so much bigger than we ever imagined, that the formless truth behind what we see is infinite in potential. And that immediately dispels our small-minded thinking, lifts us out of our pettiness and allows us to see just how great and grandiose is human existence.
In those moments, we know that anything is possible, that love is infinite and eternal, that wisdom fills us to the brink and then some, that God’s goodness and kindness is unending and unfathomable.
That’s Chanuka. A little light was all that was needed to remind the Jewish People of God’s love. Once reminded, we have remembered to this day, 2,500 years later.