By Rabbi Levi Greenberg
I am not a scientist nor am I regularly up to date on the latest developments, but when the U.S. energy secretary declares “Simply put, this is one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century,” I pay attention.
In a refreshing change from global headlines about political upheaval, natural disasters, and man-made catastrophes, the recent big news is that scientists succeeded in fusing two atoms together to produce more energy than was used in the process.
Whereas nuclear fusion successfully produced the hydrogen bomb decades ago, now it’s been proven that it can be used to create a new energy source to provide limitless, carbon-free energy.
Despite the warnings that humanity has a long road ahead before this breakthrough actually impacts our energy bills or the environment, this is important and relevant news. After all, Benjamin Franklin is forever associated with electricity, although his experiments happened over a century before electricity started extraordinarily changing our lives. So I’m excited about this and find it providential to hear about it so close to the festival of Chanukah.
In the evening of Sunday, Dec. 18, Jews around the world will begin celebrating the eight-day festival of Chanukah by lighting two candles in a nine-branched candelabrum called a menorah. The traditional menorah is designed with eight flames (representing the eight nights) in one even row, with a ninth flame (serving as the “lighter flame” known as the shamash) protruding in either direction.
On the first night, we use the Shamash to light one flame in the row, on the second night we light two until eight flames burn in the Menorah on the eighth night, aside from the shamash.
It commemorates the victory of a small group of Jews over a global empire that conquered the ancient land of Israel over 2,000 years ago and unleashed the harshest tyrannical campaign of religious persecution Jews had known until then. They seized and defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and effectively dismantled organized Jewish life. The greatly outnumbered but faithful Maccabees revolted and miraculously rid themselves of the occupation.
They found only one night’s supply of ritually pure olive oil rededicate the Holy Temple service of lighting the seven-branched menorah. Although replenishing the supply would take eight days, they lit it up and the seven flames miraculously burned for eight days and nights.
In commemoration, the tradition of lighting flames on the anniversary of that eight-day miracle was adopted. Not simply as a reminder of the past, but more importantly as an illuminating lesson about our ability to bring more goodness, morality, and peace to our own lives, communities, and surroundings, here and now.
Although the original miracle happened with a fully lit seven-branched candelabrum, on Chanukah, we focus on the message of the flames and the story they tell. Flames have always been the icon of energy, and modern science has demonstrated that even one tiny particle contains limitless energy.
On the first night, we light just the first flame in the row illustrating how even one solitary flame can banish much darkness. Teaching us that in a world of darkness, even one good deed, one conflagration of goodness, can have major consequences.
Here is where this month’s thermonuclear news comes in. On the second night, we are not satisfied with the impact of our one flame. Yesterday’s conflagration of goodness must result in a net gain of positive energy and motivate us to redouble our efforts, so we light two candles. The pattern continues until the entire Menorah is fully lit, representing a world illuminated with divine clarity, resulting in global peace and tranquility for all.
And lest you wonder how your one singular conflagration of goodness will matter tomorrow, remember that this historic breakthrough everyone is talking about was a conflagration that ended in an instant. But its significance will endure, and so will yours.
Best wishes for a joyous Chanukah!
Chanukah begins on Sunday, Dec. 18, in the evening and continues through Monday, December 26. To learn more about Chanukah please visit chabadelpaso.com/chanukah
Rabbi Levi Greenberg is associate rabbi of Chabad Lubavitch of El Paso.