By CHASIDA TEICHMAN
The young couple got married in November, and they were scheduled to fly to Eretz Yisrael shortly afterward to start their married life in the holiest of all places, which was not a challenge in and of itself but for the fact that they would be traveling during the week of Chanuka, and lighting the Menorah on an airplane would be, let’s just say, a bit challenging. After consulting with a Rav, they were told that for them to fulfill the mitzvah of hadlakas neiros Chanukah, all that was necessary was for the husband to turn on a flashlight and leave it on for a half-hour.
To my ears, untrained in the intricacies of halachah and the nuances of its applications thereof, that sounded quite strange. Really! And exactly who in heaven would benefit from seeing the light of a flashlight shining from seat 32C on flight LY8 from JFK to Tel Aviv? Not quite a situation of pirsumei nisa, I was thinking, considering that all passengers are fast asleep then, or wishing they were.
But then I realized that perhaps — just perhaps — at times, it is not only important who, if anyone, sees what you do. The virtue might lie in the mitzvah itself, which adds just a little more light to the world than what existed up until then.
I thought about a trip to Eretz Yisrael and particularly the taxi driver who drove us one late afternoon to the Kosel. It was a fast day, the traffic was heavy and the driver was doubtless quite hungry. I asked him how he could do his job while fasting. Wasn’t it difficult for him? “Mah pitom, giveret?” he answered. “Mah zeh tzom l’yom echad?”
He then told me about his youth. How at the age of 16, being the oldest of a large family, he would leave at dawn to work in the fields to help his family survive the extreme poverty that was rampant when they first came to the country. “Do you know,” he continued, “every morning I would give my younger brother whatever I was supposed to eat! Then I would go to the field and work. Sometimes there was fruit on the trees, and I ate that. Sometimes not. Many, many days, I did not eat all day. This is what you do for a brother. Az mah zeh tzom l’yom echad?”
I am not sure that this man’s brother ever knew about his sacrifice, but the world must have become a bit brighter because of it.
Closer to home, I see other sparks of greatness ignited by those who seem ordinary and unassuming. Having spent over four decades in the world of chinuch, I am witness to the evolvement of the new challenges that come with a more technologically developed society. I often read about students who can’t quite make it, the classes that are too large, the Rebbeim who are too few, and the subsidized funding for those who need the support that’s not nearly enough.
And then I see a father who, at the appropriate age for each child, encourages his three young boys to join him in singing zemiros at their Shabbos table. One week, the father noticed that the 7- and 9-year-old were struggling to find and then keep their places in the bentchers, as the print was small and the words unfamiliar. The very next Shabbos, the father handed each child a sheet with the words of two selected zemiros. Enlarged. Laminated. And personalized.
The light in their eyes when they saw it will stay in their souls forever, and the fire of mesorah and superb chinuch burned just a little bit stronger in that home.
Then there are the children who grow up in homes where a computer, tablet, Ipad and other devices are absent. Unaffected by technological mind control, these children are open to be receptors of the wonders of the world around them — in the classroom and in the home — with innocence and purity. Their imaginations are rooted in the only culture they know.
On Sukkos, some children from such a family came to visit their grandparents. The delightful 3-year-old girl, who had just received a beautiful new doll, immediately proceeded to play with it. No, she did not start dressing it in different outfits with matching shoes; rather, she threw it up in the air and caught it, time and time again, giggling and singing, “Moshe emes v’Soraso emes.”
The light of purity shone just a little bit stronger that day, reflecting the tears of amazement and nachas in her grandmother’s eyes. (Don’t ask me how I know…)
And my world turned a little bit brighter when a young mother told me about her 6-year-old son Elchanan who was home one afternoon when a tzedakah collector knocked on their door, speaking Hebrew. When the man left, Elchanan asked his mother what the man wanted. “He needed money,” she said. Elchanan then went straight to his room, took all the money he had been saving — a grand total of two dollars — and ran outside to find the man. “Here, man,” he said. “Here is money for you.” The Yerushalmi, obviously touched, blessed the child with wondrous attributes, which I pray to see in my lifetime.
The light of kindness burned a little bit brighter that day.
And then I think of Dara.
When she graduated high school, Dara chose to become a social worker. She did not practice out of a well-furnished office, and her clients did not pay a hefty fee. In fact, she had no office and her clients did not pay. Dara chose to work in her city’s correctional facility. She was passionate about bringing back the light to the eyes of the delinquents who had lost all reason to hope. She gave her cell number to the inmates, knowing that some had no one in the world to call besides her.
A number of days before Rosh Chodesh Kislev of this year, the month associated with light, Dara’s parents lit a light — a ner neshamah — for their daughter Dara, just 30, who shared more love than one heart could hold, or than death could ever take away. Dara is gone now, and I, as her teacher, feel as though a part of me is gone too. But I am inspired by thoughts of her, by the idea that we are all Dara; we too can touch souls and create iridescent explosions.
Haneiros hallalu kodesh heim. The neshamah is an eternal spark of the Divine, and the opportunities to create spiritual luminosity and light up the night are endless.
Just ask Zecharya and Tami, two passengers on flight LY8, flying from New York to Tel Aviv.
The sky’s the limit! n