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Rabbi Label Lam

A Little Light Chases Away a Lot of Darkness

One who is accustomed with a candle will have children who are Talmud scholars. (Talmud-Shabbos)

(This statement refers to) The candle of Shabbos, and the candle of Chanuka. (Rashi)

What is the connection between lighting Shabbos and Chanuka candles and having children who are scholars of the Talmud? What could the sages have had in mind?

An American Indian had a friend, a city slicker from New York who invited him for a visit to the Big Apple. The Indian spent a day up-town and down, east side and west with his friend in a grand tour. At the end of the day, as the sun was setting, they stood together in Times Square observing the cacophony of car horns and rumbling subways. The Indian became suddenly transfixed his eyes roaming the sky. His friend became concerned that perhaps he was faint and overwhelmed by the experience, all the new stimulation. The Indian whispered that he heard the distinct chirping sound of the "yellow bellied warbler". The city friend chuckled cynically.

The Indian pointed with glee to a window ledge and asked if that was not in fact a "yellow bellied warbler". The city fellow chuckled at his Indian friend thinking he had mistaken one of the ubiquitous city pigeons for some other obscure bird. When he looked at the ledge he realized at once that his Indian friend was correct. He asked in amazement how he could have heard the slight chirping sound of that delicate creature amidst all the sound and fury of rush hour.

The Indian answered with an action. He approached a group of people lined up for a bus and tossed a handful of change on the sidewalk nearby. All eyes were riveted to the sight of money scattering beneath their feet. Then the Indian asked his friend rhetorically, "How come those people were attracted to the sound of those tiny coins amidst all the confusion and noise?!" He explained further, "They come to the city in search of money, hunting for bargains or to score a deal. Their ear is tuned to the ring of the cash register. I grew up on the quiet reservation. There I stalked the birds and grew accustomed to all the nuances of their individual moods and moves. Even now if I come to a distracting environment as this, I can still discern their presence, however subtle the sound."

The same is true in the world of vision. When a child, even the child within, observes the gentle flame of the Shabbos candle weekly, it etches a profound impression onto the mind. Some have a custom to light an extra candle for each additional child in the family and the child is aware that one of those glowing beauties represents me, as King Solomon states in proverbs, "The candle of G-d is the soul of man!" Stepping out into a dark and confusing world the child has hope of observing light in the eyes of humanity treating each person as a "candle of G-d", rather than as a tool for some hidden agenda.

For eight days in the year that child watches the light in window blossom to maturity. Each time we light there is a declaration, "these candles we have no permission to make use of them" they are set aside as a mitzvah and a mitzvah alone. That is the goal of the act and the fulfillment of the light, as an end in itself. Here too, King Solomon tells us in proverbs, "The candle is a mitzvah and the Torah is the light", and "A wise man will grab a mitzvah!" Again the eye of the beholder is educated to look into a world of confusion and see more and more opportunities to accomplish deeds that are meaningful because they are.

What are the most sincere motives and sensitivities that would draw a person to look more and more deeply into the Talmud if not to purify the soul and/or to gain greater clarity about mitzvos? This sheds a little light on the Talmudic aphorism, "a little light chases away a lot of darkness".

Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Dovid Green and Project Genesis, Inc.



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