Nechemia Schusterman

The world is on fire — which fire is up to you

The world is on fire… with menorah lights, that is. Literally, millions of menorahs,communal and private, in houses and shuls, on city streets and in state buildings, are all on fire.


The menorahs of light, on fire, casting their beautiful halo wherever they may be. Giving light a chance.

There is a thread that binds all these menorahs-on-fire, and that is the famous quote: a little light pushes away a lot of darkness. This was a theme that my teacher and mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe of righteous memory taught hundreds if not thousand of times over the many Chanukahs during his leadership of the Chabad movement.

I have attended more than a dozen community menorah lighting ceremonies this year alone, around Boston and specifically here on the North Shore where I live, where, invariably this theme comes up again as the speech of the officiating rabbi or leader.

So how does it work. Does a little bit of light really push away a lot of darkness?

As a kid, in the micro, it is explained and understood very simplistically. Take a match/flashlight into a dark room, and this one tiny light will brighten up the whole dark room.

How does this work on the macro? The world is burning. Sadly, not just Chanukah candles but with with bombings, stabbings, shootings, ISIS, rockets, media warfare, attacks on the homeland, attacks on our Jewish Homeland, for the first time in my adult life, I can actually see how a WWII happened. How a Holocaust happened. I grew up hearing the term, “never again” again and again, but it was a slogan for outdated old timers like Eli Wiesel, not for kids like me.

That has changed.

The world is burning. It is on fire.

How is the burning of the beautiful menorah lights going to push ISIS back into their caves? How will a little kid lighting a menorah in order to win a contest by putting the correct hashtag stop a psycho maniac in Israel who woke up that morning and put a suicide note in his shirt with plans to ram Jews at a bus stop and knowing that he’d pay for that with his life? Is a little light really pushing away a lot of darkness? Is it even pushing away a little?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but here is a thought that struck me tonight as I lit candle number three.

It was the first quiet moment in a week, and the programs of the day were concluded, (Chanukah is like a week of Black Fridays for Chabadniks) and I had just lit the menorah and said the blessings, and sang the traditional Haneiros Halalu prayer afterwords and sat there, looking at the candles and got lost in my head as I watched the beautiful candles. The normally jumpy flickering candles, seemed to have settled, if but for a brief moment.

My wife came next to me, and as if reading my thoughts, asked me what I was thinking about as I looked at the candles… I mumbled something unintelligible and then I asked her, to tell me what she sees. She said, “this is what its all about.” ‘All the rush, and hubbub and stress of life, that is the outside, that is what we need to do. That is what we do, but not necessarily what we are. THIS is what we are. A few quite moments, lost in the light of the menorah, with family and kids around, that is what it is all about.”

It was a snapshot moment,not for a Facebook post, but to be emblazoned on the heart, for eternity. The truth was liberating.

And then it hit me. In the singsong prayer of the Haneiros Halalu prayer, we sing (not say, but sing festively) about the “rules” of the menorah. That “ein lanu reshus l’hishtamesh behein, ela l’rosam bilvad.” We are not to “use” the candles, but merely look at them, that’s all.

First of all who cares? Why can’t I pull up a chair and read my novel next the menorah and read by menorah light?

And secondly, is now the time to discuss this? These nuanced laws are for the classroom perhaps, but not now, as we festively sing upon lighting the candles. Is it?

And then I understood: If I want the little bit of light to push away much darkness, then I cannot inject myself into the light. It cannot be about me in any way shape or form. It has to be a completely selfless light. Absolute bittul/humility. Even reading by the light, or using it as a flashlight to guide my way in a dark house is forbidden. The light is there to just be. To allow honesty, reflection and truth to rise to the surface like the oil that it is, and not pollute it with our self-centered selves.

This is the real light of the menorah. Not the illumination generated by the flames; that is regular light. That light could be generated by an electric menorah or strategically placed flashlights. The real light of the menorah is the pure light of the truth of our real realities, our blessings, the truths that we are simply to busy to stop and reflect on. Its not malicious or intentional, its just life.

But real life, real light, is about essence. It is too pure and pristine to touch or use, it there “only to be looked upon, that’s all.”

Does that push ISIS back into their cave or stop bombings, shootings or rammings. No, only people can do that. But what the light can do is allow us to access this truth, this essential humility, and focus on what is “real.” That light can really push away a lot of darkness, the darkness and impact caused by all these world chaotic events.

The darkness caused by a world on fire, with chaos and fear and despair, can only be fought with a world on fire. On fire with the light and flames of the menorah. LIGHT, not the shine of the light of the menorah that illuminates the immediate surroundings, but the light, the light of the the menorah that is the light of truth and light that transcends borders and continents.

This light can push away a lot of darkness. The darkness of fear, the darkness of chaos, that darkness of a world gone crazy. This darkness that transcends all logic can only be combated by light that transcends all logic.

So yes, a little light pushes away a lot of darkness, but not just regular light, and not just regular darkness.

Yes, the world is on fire, but lets make sure it is the fire of light, of the menorah of essence and bittul, and not the fire of darkness, of chaos, instability and fear.

Ein lanu reshus l’hishtamesh behein, ela l’rosam bilvad.” We are not to “use” the candles, but merely look at them, that’s all.

About the Author
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman is a Chabad Rabbi in Peabody MA. Together with his wife Raizel and 7 beautiful children, the run Jewish activities in the area. He is passionate about Israel and Judaism. He has authored articles, that have been widely published, including