December 02,2010

Advertising the Miracle

Posted by Haggadot

Smiley face

One of the mitzvot of Chanukah is pirsum hanes, which can be understood as “the advertisement of the miracle” of Chanukah. The advertisement becomes tangible as we place our chanukiyot into our windows, spreading the tiny lights of our candles outward into the dark night, and sharing the miracle of Chanukah with all who can see the flames. Pirsum hanes has always resonated deeply for me. Perhaps it dates to the year my cat jumped onto the table next to the window where we had the chanukiyah lit ,and knocked the candles into the filmy curtains, causing flames to shoot up to the ceiling. This was followed in rapid succession by shrieks, meows, a fire extinguisher in action and a visit from the fire department. Thank goodness no one, including my beloved cat, was injured. And thank goodness for electric chanukiyot, one of which was installed the very next Chanukah on that windowsill. That resonance is still strong, yet differently so. Then, I lived in a suburban neighborhood, on a street with other houses which had Christmas trees in the windows; my chanukiyah then was the lone one on the street. Now I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which is by definition very Jewy. I live in an apartment that faces other buildings, and I can see from the window where I will light my chanukiyah the windows of hundreds of other homes. Now, when I light my chanukiyah, my lights shine outward into a darkness lit by many other lights, joining together to form a light that is stronger because it joins the lights of others. I look out and know that my lights are not alone in recalling Chanukah's many miracles, and I am reminded that we are stronger than the sum of our candlelight, with stories and memories that grow and strengthen as they are shared. Not long ago, I took the bus down Fifth Avenue, one evening toward the end of Chanukah. As I looked out the window, I was shocked to see in so many windows chanukiyot ablaze. Block by block I saw them, going up the floors of residential buildings, hundreds of tiny lights, proclaiming the victory of the the weak over the strong. So many Jews, so much remembering. So many miracles. Advertising the story of the Maccabees is essential, but which story to advertise is a tough choice. I never like to start with the story of the miracle of the oil: it seems that a late addition to the story by the rabbis of the Talmud has obscured the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians and their brave fight to own their identities as Jews, take back their Temple and rededicate that space to the service of God. Instead of bogging myself down in choosing which message, I prefer to focus on the medium, the advertisement of the miracle, pirsum hanes. Whether it's the miracle of light banishing darkness, the miracle of the victory of the few over the many, or some completely different miracle, the point is to share it. Advertise the miracle: • Get an electric menorah, available at chain drug or big box housewares stores, and put it in a window of your home that can be seen by your neighbors. • Light a stable chanukiyah in a safe place in your window where children and pets can't knock it over. Candles can be purchased at Judaica stores, many grocery stores, and the aforementioned chain drugstores and big box housewares stores. For good measure, put some tinfoil down below it. Luckily, most Chanukah candles burn within 30 minutes, so you don't have to stick around all night worrying the cat might take it down accidentally. • Fun with kids: make a candle counter. A felt (click here or a magnetic one (click here can be hung on the door of your home and will be visible as well to your neighbors and all who visit. • If you live in a house: Line your front walk with luminaria. Put a “shamash” up on a stair and add one each night. • Use Chanukah's emphasis on light to look at how energy is used in your home. Change your conventional lightbulbs to energy-efficient bulbs, or consider switching from standard electric/gas to wind and solar powered options provided by many electric companies. Try an energy audit and make some adjustments as you approach winter. • Share the light of your chanukiyah and the miracles of Chanukah with others by inviting friends and neighbors to join you for candlelighting, especially those who have not experienced Chanukah before. As we advertise the miracle of Chanukah this year, may our individual lights be strengthened and increased in the world as they join the lights of so many others, in celebration and in community.