In 1981, when I was 4 years old, our house burnt down.
We were on holiday when the police called and told my parents the news. The holiday was cut short and my parents, who had just moved to England 8 years earlier, now with their two young children, went home to see that all that remained of their house was a burnt out shell. They managed to salvage some photos, a few bits of cutlery and crockery and my father dug through the ashes and managed to retrieve the board and all the carved pieces of the marble chess set my parents received for their wedding. (10 years later, I accidently broke the chessboard in half whilst playing rugby with my friend in the living room of our new house, strongly validating my mum’s constant admonition not to play with a ball in the house).
I don’t know if it is because of that, but my whole life I have been fascinated with fire. As a young boy I had fun making flame throwers with spray deodorant and a lighter (until I burnt a huge hole in my bedroom curtains – that’s something you just can’t cover up from your parents), when I lived in Thailand and Laos I used to make a fire every full moon, and now living in Israel many of my personal development seminars finish with a fire ceremony in the Jerusalem Forest or the park next to my house.
In fact, most people I know are enticed by fire and could sit for hours looking at a bonfire down to the last burning embers, something we often do on the Justifi Nicaragua trip (accompanied by fine local rum).
Our tradition teaches that fire is the most spiritual, physical thing in the world. It’s barely physical at all, you can’t grasp it and it just seems to go up and disappear into the sky, yet you can see it, feel it, and if there is no wood, no fuel, nothing connecting it to earth, then it can’t exist at all.
As Chanukah approaches and we prepare to light our candles, our sages teach us many special ideas about fire. Here are three of my favourite:
a) Just like a flame, we must always be striving upwards, living our dreams, connecting to more meaningful and fulfilling and conscious living, whilst at the same time being grounded and practical and connected to everyday reality.
b) Just like the full effect of a flame is only noticed when it is lit in a dark place, so to in our lives the darkest times hold within them the potential for the greatest light, the greatest breakthrough and growth.
c) Just like when someone shares a flame to light someone else’s candle they do not lose anything, in fact the light is increased, so to with the important things in life such as love and joy and friendship, the more you share and give away, the more there is for everyone.
With this in mind, my strong advice to help you balance out the immense spirituality of Chanukah is to indulge in as many greasy donuts as possible, ensuring you remain firmly grounded and in this world. It’s the only way - Trust me, I’m a Rabbi.