Dear readers: May this column serve as an aliyas neshamah for Dr. Ivan Mauer (Yitzchak benTzvi), of blessed memory. May his light forever burn bright.
I have wanted to tell this story for a while. There are experiences in life that help us find our soul, the candle of God within us. This was such an experience. It is a true story about the eternal flame of the Jewish soul – with a Chanukah message.
We took a family summer vacation with a kosher travel group to Vail, Colorado two years ago. My son was then 17 years old, and my daughter was 11. This was our first trip to Vail. I loved the mountains, an unfamiliar site to a native Chicagoan. We shared many adventures from white water rafting to jeep riding. It was a great trip.
On Friday afternoon we took a chairlift up the mountains. We were at an altitude of over 8,000 feet, and the view was spectacular. Nursing a bad cold, I opted to sit and write about the majestic landscape, while my family hiked. The mountains were draped in shades of green and purple with its peaks blanketed in snow. I felt Hashem’s grandeur.
Still nourished in His majesty, I lit the Shabbos candles with my daughter. The large wooden table for candle lighting was outside the dining hall, filled with at least 200 lit tea candles. The room was graced with the spirit of Shabbos, filled with the daughters and children of The King. As aba’alat teshuvah, I am awestruck at seeing so many Jewish people observing Shabbos.
I noticed a woman wearing a white tichel deep in prayer. I was moved by her concentration. She was unfazed by all the activity around her. Like the flames of the Shabbos candles reaching ever upwards, I trusted that her heartfelt tefillos were touching the Heavens.
My daughter and I went around the corner to say the Ma’ariv prayer. We suddenly heard a loud whoosh sound followed by the shouts and cries of the many women and children in the adjacent room. I went to see what was happening. The many tea candles on the wooden table had ignited into one huge golden orange flame. The serene Shabbos scene that was only moments before was replaced with the fear of impending danger. In the midst of all the chaos, the woman remained deep in prayer.
My mind raced with thoughts of not wanting anyone to be harmed and urgently needing to get my daughter out of there. I asked a waitress where the exit was, but she ran right past me. Then something happened. As my daughter recollected: “A wondrous calm descended over my mother.” I have rarely experienced this kind of calm and clarity, though I wish I had. It was a flash of light, a true gift from Above.
I took my daughter by the hand and found an exit, but at that point the fire had been extinguished. An employee took the 20-gallon urn for hand washing and extinguished the fire. Amazingly, the crisis ended quickly and no one was harmed; not even the wooden table had burned. As my daughter said: “It was a gift that no one was hurt. It helps you to appreciate things more. With a snap of a finger things can happen, and also with a snap of a finger, Hashem can protect you.”
With the burning image of the many Shabbos candles becoming one large flame, I thought of the korbonos of the Beis HaMikdash. I prayed that all the heartfelt prayers poured out by the women over the Shabbos candles that night became one, and went straight up to Hashem. I thought about the eternity of the Jewish soul.
A Chanukah Message
“The candle of God is the soul of man” (Proverbs 20:27). A candle is a metaphor for the soul. The Jewish people are to be shining emissaries of Hashem’s eternal light. The Yevanim, like so many others,sought to extinguish the Jewish soul. They wanted to abolish Torah and extinguish our candle, our eternal connection to Hashem. But they could not. The Jewish people battled them and continue to battle through the darkness of exile, clinging to Hashem and carrying forth His mitzvos.
“For a commandment is a candle and the Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23). Each time we perform a mitzvah, we attach ourselves, like a candle’s flame to its body of wax, to Hashem’s Divine will. We become shining emissaries of His light of Torah unto the world.
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I asked the woman how she was able to keep praying when the fire broke out. She said that she felt her job was to stay in place and not join the rush, to keep praying. She was reciting Shir Hashirim, which she recites every Friday night. We became friends.
In my own small way I believe that her unwavering devotion to Hashem, along with the many heartfelt prayers poured over the Shabbos candles that night, helped bring our salvation. This experience helped me to better appreciate the miracle of Chanukah, and how the Jewish people became an eternal people.
When my daughter and I have thought about that night, when the candle’s flames ignited into one large golden flame and miraculously no one was harmed, we feel that we were given a Heavenly gift, a glimpse of the magnificent eternal flame of the Jewish people.
Each time we light a candle we are connecting to our inner flame, the spark of the Divine that can never be extinguished.
May this flame bring forth the light of the Mashiach.
Marsha Smagley resides in Highland Park, Illinois, with her husband and two children. She has devoted the last 12 years to studying Torah, becoming observant, guiding her family in Torah life, and writing articles that convey her heartfelt journey to Torah. Her work has appeared in various publications.