It’s the seventh night of Chanukah.
I’ve lit with oil for more than thirty years. I have an old, unornamented chanukiah that was very common in Jerusalem. It still might be. Constructed of brass and faced with glass, it’s like an aquarium, covered, but vented on the top.
Olive oil burns silently and completely enclosed, no sound can escape. Although protected from outside wind, each flame dances and flickers uniquely, none of them in the same rhythm. It appears that each one is completely independent from the others, although, of course, each one moves the air with its heat and with its own dance–in a choreography too complex to understand, we can be hypnotized as they dance together.
Step back. After not too many steps, the chanukiah becomes a single light source as the individual flames cannot be separated.
Imagine a wall of chanukiot, each mounted at random on this wall, each filled with seven distinct flames.A few steps back and each chanukiah merges into a single light. If we could move backwards a sufficient distance, the individual chanukiot will merge and the wall itself becomes a single light source, each chanukiah adding to the light.
As beautiful as this image is, it has a great defect, a great weakness. Every scale lacks בחירה (bechira), choice. The vision is alluring, but even in its complex beauty it’s superficial. Given enough computing power, and for all I know my older iPhone already has more than enough, every hop and flicker can be predicted and the entire phenomenon accurately animated. Beautiful, but trivial.
Imagine the beauty and power of Am Yisrael, the Jewish people. Six hundred thousand souls, distributed among twelve million individuals, each fully empowered and charged to choose. Each choice adding to the unpredictability, enabling the beauty of life, rather than mere still-life, to unfold in continual surprise.
כי מציון תצא תורה, Ki MiTziyon Teytze Torah, Out of Zion, the center of the Jewish soul, will go forth Torah, the pure energy of existence enclothed so it enlivens rather than consumes all life. The world, and all life it contains, reaches the fullness of perfection only when external attempts (false gods) to control and reign it in fail. This struggle between control/predictability and true holiness, predicated on the inability to predict and control, underlies so many struggles in this world. If only we can trust that the values we receive from the Holy Torah will enable us to trust our ability to, finally, סור מרע ועושה טוב, Sur M’Ra V’Oseh Tov (Psalms 34:15), reject evil and build the good, to, independently, join the growing current of people who choose life.
עם ישראל חי, Am Yisrael Chai, The Jewish People are Life.