Chaim Ingram

Ignite – and excite!!!

For the first time since December 2019, when the word corona still simply meant a crown, my wife and I were invited to celebrate the happy return of cruising to Australasia by once again leading the Chanuka programme for the Jewish guests (and other interested parties) on the Ovation of the Seas.

In the past, we have secured special permission to light actual candles in the main area under strict supervision  This year however there arose a new cruise director who knew not the Ingrams and behold! he decreed that under no circumstances were real flames to be ignited.

When travelling, the Ingrams are known to adopt the Boy Scout motto “be prepared!”, hence our bulging multiplicity of suitcases (fortunately there is no weight limit, within reason, on an ocean liner!). Having ascertained the lighting situation a week prior to embarkation, I had six days to track down incandescent globes which, as those who have tried in recent times know, isn’t easy!  [Rabbis S.Z. Auerbach and S. Elyashiv ztl rule that in case of need one can fulfil the Chanuka mitsva perfectly using incandescent (not fluorescent/LED) battery lights and even recite the usual blessings over them.]

Thanks to the help of some wonderful people. I succeeded in not only tracking down – in Melbourne – but obtaining the loan of a beautiful, chic, incandescent-flame battery Menorah and having it flown (thank you Rebetsin Elka!) to Sydney just in time for our cruise.  Mi k’amcha Yisrael!

Our exuberant Chanuka services on board drew the usual colourful variety of guests ranging from the niece of a prominent Sydney rabbi to a Druse former member of the IDF!  However, it was as I happened to be passing a venue on the main deck where a trivia quiz was being conducted that I experienced my ‘Aha moment’ on board!

The trivia question which I just happened to overhear was: The Hebrew word Chanuka means dedication: True or false? (I kid you not!).  Resisting the urge to call out the answer, I started to meander away.  A few minutes later, a middle-aged (clearly non-Jewish) woman scurried towards me. “Rabbi!” she exclaimed. (I was wearing a kipa so it was assumed by all that I was “the rabbi”!) “What does Chanuka mean!”  I wasn’t sure if she was trying to cheat  but I told her anyway that indeed Chanuka does mean dedication. “But” I continued “it also stems from a Hebrew root meaning education”. And I proceeded to explain that when you educate a child effectively you are enabling him to dedicate himself to a worthy set of values and ideals. And I left it at that.

That evening, in the course of my short spiel at our service on the ship, I spoke about the halachic principle of hadlaka oseh mitsva, that the act of igniting the Chanuka lights constitutes the mitsva: hence at the time of lighting one must ensure no draught, the correct positioning of the Menora, sufficient oil/candle size/batteries, etc.  And that if, despite all care having been taken, the lights go out before time, we are still credited with the mitsva.  And I drew the very innocuous and marketable lesson that “it is not our duty to complete the work but neither are we free to desist”, that provided we do the maximum we can to be metaken olam, to help mend the world around us in our small, modest way, we have done our duty and results are not up to us but up to G-D.

Later, reflecting on that halacha and, unconsciously, dovetailing my reflections alongside the exchange with that lady earlier in the day, a yet more profound message started to well up in my consciousness.

I recalled the memorable insight of Rashi on the words be-ha’alotecha et ha-neirot, “when you light up the lamps” (Num 8:2): an expression of rising, for one must hold a fire to the wick until the flame rises by itself (based upon Shabbat 21a).  On more than one occasion, I have conveyed this stirring message to a Bar Mitsva boy. His “flame” has been lit by his parents and mentors; now hopefully it will rise independently and burn brightly.  But now, suddenly, I realised its relevance not only to education in general, but in particular to that Chanuka rule I cited earlier.

Hadlaka oseh mitsva!  If when you light the Menora, there is insufficient oil or wax to burn half an hour after dark; or if the Menora is positioned lower than 30 centimetres or higher than 10 metres; or if if a draught is blowing from an open front door on a windy day or an air-conditioning vent is blasting directly above your candles, you have not fulfilled the mitsva (and must re-light without a blessing after the corrective measures are made).

Now let us revisit Rashi’s powerful words and their metaphorical interpretation.

Mitsva in its deepest sense means “connection”. If when we educate our children, when we ‘place a match’ to their emergent ‘wick’, there is insufficient fuel to burn long and strong,  if there isn’t enough spiritual petrol in our tank to connect our children securely to Torah Judaism, to excite them enough that they will continue to desire to explore to its depths in teenage-hood and beyond, then their flame is liable to flicker and die.

Moreover, if we do not communicate Torah Judaism on an appropriate wavelength for our child – too high (above their heads) or too low (simplistic) – how can we expect them to tune in or connect to its full beauty?

Most critically of all: if the alien winds blowing all around us are allowed to blast into our homes; if the blustering ideals of secular humanist moral relativism overwhelm our age-old Torah ideals in the minds and hearts of our young ones, there is every danger that the flickering connection our youth have to their heritage will be extinguished altogether.

We cannot, of course, insulate ourselves or our children completely from the society amongst which we dwell. Nor are we expected to. Indeed we place the Menora by a window to the public thoroughfare to connect with the world outside.  But the main aim is to shed our light outside.  Our light is infinitely stronger and more resilient than theirs.  The tragedy is that we too often fail to realise it, or, even when we do, to act upon it!

On the Ovation, the empty glitter and tinsel of the yuletide trees and other  decorations that had been set up on the main decks were somehow eclipsed by all the other general razzamatazz on display.  However, a giant electric Menora had been set up on an elevated section at the very centre of the upper main deck with a prominent banner proclaiming Happy Hanukkah.  The way it was positioned, it appeared to dominate everything around it!  

Moreover, there were, one would estimate, 80-100 identifying Jews on board out of nearly 5,000 guests, yet for five consecutive days, the daily bulletin issued to all cruisers wished everyone Happy Hanukkah in big, bold letters directly beneath the masthead.  It seems that, just as the Pharaoh of the beginning of Sefer Shemot  recognised us as a strong, powerful nation before we ourselves did (Ex. 1:9), so too today, outsiders – both enemies and friends – acknowledge Jewish influence out of all proportion to our numbers more than we do!

Our task is to take that latent strength and utilise it to ignite the souls of our children, our communities and outsiders with the unique, wondrous and exciting ideological message of Total-Torah – the real thing – and in so doing witness the constant growth of our flame until its authentic light spreads to all humankind!

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of five books on Judaism. He is a senior tutor for the Sydney Beth Din and the non-resident rabbi of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation. He can be reached at
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