There is Fire and There is Fire
Fire is an incredible element and force of nature. On the one hand it can be overwhelming when it burns out of control. Parts of Southern California have been ablaze for weeks. Many days, though we were not close to the fires, we had to stay indoors to avoid inhaling the smoke. Thankfully, because of the bravery and diligence of the firefighters, who have had to work day and night, lives, homes and even synagogues have been saved by the skills of hand and heart, hose and helicopter. Water has been a rival and affective opponent of fire run amuck.
Indeed, fire is an incredible element and force of nature, as demonstrated also by the Chanukiah, or Chanukah Menorah. The Chanukah lights remind us of the power of fire when it is controlled. Fire controlled can be productive instead of destructive. It can warm the body and warm the soul.
The ambiance of candle light is unmatched. That is why the rabbis of the Talmud noted that the reason we start with one candle on the first night and add a candle each night until the eighth is because in matters of holiness we never decrease, we only increase.
There is fire and there is fire.
Fire uncontrolled is like passions uncontained. Fire uncontrolled is like impulses unrestrained. Controlled fire is like controlled impulse.
You know when you are simply going about your day, doing your own thing, with not a bother on your mind and then suddenly something happens that really upsets you? In that moment, every time, is an opportunity to make a choice. In that moment you have the opportunity to decide to be like a gentle candle or a blazing fire.
Psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Dr. Viktor E. Frankl wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." When we react to difficult moments uncontrolled, we can insult or hurt others. When we slow down, give pause and commit ourselves to our best response, we can heal the moment, heal ourselves and others.
When a fire is out of control, smoke can blow far beyond the area of the fire itself. I know someone with asthma who suffered during fires that were 20 miles away. So too with our emotions. Passions uncontained and impulses unrestrained do damage beyond their immediate impact, both in time and in lives.
The flame of the Chanukah menorah is soft. It is gentle but determined, illuminating and enlightening. It is fire but it is the fire of a Chanukah candle, which humbles us with its confidence in the miraculous. May we enter the new year inspired by the memory of its sweet light.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!!!Rabbi Karen Bender
Skirball Director of Spiritual Life