I remember as a child complaining to my parents one year that the gifts we received paled in comparison to the gifts we received the year before. My father was quick to point out that the focus should be on the miracles and not on the gifts. I, an aspiring 10-year-old lawyer, responded that I could not comprehend miracles, but I was miraculously able to comprehend gifts.
My father, ever the sharp one, retorted: “It will take a miracle for you to get another gift out of your mother and me.”
As I stared into the flickering flames these last few nights I thought of the fires that warmed me and the fires that were ravaging Israel. Such is the conundrum of fire. Too far away and one cannot enjoy the warmth. Too close and one gets burned. And to be sure, even the smallest flame can wreck havoc.
Fires that give warmth like the two young Jewish men from our area who went to Warsaw Poland, to the scene of some of the most hellish fires in history, to sing about Chanukah for the few Jews that still remain there. And fires that consume: nations that have unilaterally chosen to defy history and declare a Palestinian state along what they claim to be the 1967 borders.
I saw flames that warm as I lit the candles with my wife and our four daughters, together, every night as a family. And I saw flames that scorched families. Families with children that lit one night with their father, and then another night with their mother when she had visitation time, and then back to the father when it was his turn, and then back to the mother when it was her turn again. The children were the collateral damage of the fires of divorce. I saw fires that warmed and illuminated as we made friends this Chanukah with new returnees to our Jewish faith. And I experienced the fires of assimilation as I fielded a call from a former client of mine whose ex-wife removed all four kids from yeshiva and enrolled them in public school. The four children now live with her and her new fiancé, a non-Jew.
I saw all of this in one week; all of this at the same time; all of this paradoxical existence of the Jew in the Diaspora and the Jew in Israel struggling to survive as others eagerly wait for our flame to die out.