Defy and define the darkness

Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.

Anne Frank (1929 โ€“ 1945)

For Chanukah this year, I’d like to share a thought or two about candles. Every night of Chanukah, for eight nights, Jewish people light candles on their Chanukah menorahs, using the flame from one of the candles. The tradition is to display our menorahs in our windows in order to “publicize” the miracle of the Chanukah story, in which a tiny jar of oil miraculously contained enough oil to burn for eight nights in the Temple in Jerusalem.

I have loved fire since childhood; I love lighting candles and watching them burn. It’s not about romance or atmosphere for me – I just love watching the fire consume and glow. Even as an adult, I’ve had some accidents with candles that have resulted in them leaving burn marks because I’d been playing around with the flames. Something about fire licks at my imagination.

What really strikes me about the above quote from Anne Frank is the idea that the lit candle defines the darkness in addition to defying it. It’s like – the candle flame, by marking and claiming its space, is saying: “Everything beyond my limits is other; you perceive all of it in relation to me.”

A candle loses nothing of its light by lighting another candle.

James Keller (1900 – 1977)

And, while the candle must eventually burn out, it can, as Father James Keller pointed out, share its flame without losing any fire of its own. If one continues to feed the flame, it will essentially continue burning forever, though the body of the candle itself will be no longer.

Then again, if we isolate it from all potential fuels, the flame will inevitably die along with its candle. It’s unlike anything else in this world, both in its vulnerability and in its awesome potential.

As intoxicating as burning candles are, I always put our menorahs away every year after the eighth night of Chanukah – only to be used again the following winter.

But I admit… I not so secretly relish the idea of lighting them and watching their flames dance night after night after night, long after Chanukah has ended. Of course, if one were to do this, the symbolism of Chanukah as the Festival of Lights would lose all meaning. Its flames would no longer serve to define it in contrast to the remainder of the year.


Writerโ€™s Quotes Wednesdays #49

These musings were written for WQW49.

46 thoughts on “Defy and define the darkness”

  1. While it is lovely to see all the holiday decorations in the neighborhood –
    it is a delight to find another electric Menorah this year in our area.
    We do not light the candles in the front window. We light them in the back window on a more sturdy table. All the firefighters in the family agree with ‘safety first!’.

  2. Happy Hanukkah, David. As a teenager, I was a newspaper delivery girl. The area I delivered was a beautifully diverse neighborhood. My customers enjoyed teaching me their seasonal traditions. One year, I was invited to participate with Mr and Mrs. Rosenbaum’s family for the third evening of Hanukkah. It was the most magical moment when they light the candles. I was mesmerized with the flickering of the candles, the prayers, and the kindness this family showed me. I will never forget this night. David, your words brought back me back to that beautiful evening. Thank you.

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