THE FORGOTTEN HANUKIYAH
By Rabbi Robert B. Barr
Once there sat a small Hanukkah Menorah (Hanukiyah) in an old antique store. The Hanukiyah had been in the store for many months. It had been there for so long that the owner of the store had forgotten all about the Little Hanukiyah. (To let you in on a secret – I don’t think that the store owner knew that the Hanukiyah was a Hanukiyah – he just thought it was a funny looking candle stick!)
Well, the Hanukiyah was never dusted, or polished, or even wiped just to get the cobwebs off. And so it got dirtier and dirtier – with more and more cobwebs growing between its fingers.
The Hanukiyah sat on a very high shelf. From this spot the Hanukiyah could see everything that happened in the store. Every time the bells over the door jiggled, the little Hanukiyah would look to see a customer walk in and wander around the store – admiring the many beautiful objects that were there.
It was very hard for customers to decide what to buy – because there were so many things to choose from – but every once in a while – a customer would let out a big gasp – when they found something they just could not live without. They would pick it up very gently as they carried it to the owner of the store to pay for it.
But no one ever gasped when they saw the Hanukiyah – in fact most people never even noticed the little thing – because it sat so high up and was so covered with dust. But, that didn’t stop the little Hanukiyah. Every time a customer would come anywhere close to where it was sitting, the little Hanukiyah would try to shake the dust from off its shoulders and try to stand a little taller so that someone would notice – but no one ever did. Nobody wanted the little Hanukiyah and it was very sad.
As the weeks passed, the little Hanukiyah grew sadder and sadder – and when it was sad it would try to hide in a corner. And from where it hid it watched as the other candlesticks were being sold and carried out by their new owners. It seemed like people bought every kind of candle stick – big ones and small ones – brass and silver – some held only one candle – others held two or three – one even held seven candles – but no one even looked at the little Hanukiyah. It just sat in its corner all alone feeling sad.
The Hanukiyah wondered why nobody wanted to buy it – it began to wonder if maybe it was the way it looked. So late one night after the owner had left the store, the little Hanukiyah decided to find out what was going on and why it wasn’t wanted. So that night when everything was very quiet, the little Hanukiyah began to wiggle and wiggle and wiggle – harder and harder until it had slid along the shelf. (Remember though Hanukiyahs have fingers – they don’t have feet.) And after a lot of work, the Hanukiyah finally reached its goal. There it stood before a big shiny tray in which it could see its own reflection.
As it examined its reflection, the Hanukiyah noticed something strange – it didn’t look like any other candle stick it had ever seen in the shop. All the other candle sticks could hold 1, 2 or even maybe 7 candles – but the little Hanukiyah could hold nine. The Hanukiyah leaned closer, to get a better look, at the nine candle holders – 8 were all the same height, while the 9th one – the one in the middle stood taller than the rest.
For a long time the Hanukiyah just stood there looking at its reflection, wondering why it was so different. As the sun began to rise the little Hanukiyah knew it was time to go back into its corner. And so the Hanukiyah began to wiggle its way back to its spot, thinking that it looked strange, and not wanting anyone to see, the Hanukiyah hid behind a large plate.
The Hanukiyah stayed behind the plate for days, it just stood there moaning and groaning because it was ashamed of looking different. The little Hanukiyah stood gathering dust and watching as the spiders built elaborate cobwebs between its fingers. Sad, dusty and web-covered, the little Hanukiyah hid behind the large plate, hoping never to be seen again.
One day the bells over the door jiggled, and the little Hanukiyah peeked from behind the plate and was startled by what it saw. There was the biggest candle holder it had ever seen – and this enormous candle holder had 9 places just like it had. This new big candle holder was brought in for its annual cleaning and polishing.
The little Hanukiyah shook with joy as it looked at the new candle holder. It was enormous – it must have stood 4 feet high and its arms stretched 3 feet across. It looked so beautiful and proud, standing there tall and straight. The little Hanukiyah just stood there and stared at it all day long.
As soon as the owner of the store left for the night, the little Hanukiyah slid from behind the plate and called out, “Hey you, over there.”
Then, the large Hanukiyah looked around finally spotting the little dusty, cobweb covered Hanukiyah that was sitting up high. The large Hanukiyah smiled and they began to talk.
The little Hanukiyah had so many questions for the large one – it wasn’t even sure where to begin. Finally, the little Hanukiyah said, “I’ve been in this store for months, but you are the first candle-holder that I have seen that looks like me, with 9 candle holders – 8 the same height and 1 which is taller – why is that? Why are we different?
The large Hanukiyah stood quietly for a moment before it began to speak. “A long time ago, in a land far from here, there lived a people whose nation was under foreign rule. In time, the foreign rulers became crueler and they forced the people to adopt a new religion. But the people would not have it. They believed in freedom and that no once could force another how to think or believe. They tried everything to convince the foreign rulers that freedom was important to them. But nothing worked.
Finally, from among the people a small army arose who were willing to fight for freedom. (Though fighting is not the best way to solve a problem, in this situation it was the only way.) Because of their courage, dedication, and belief that what they were fighting for was right, they eventually won. After winning the war, these people rededicated their temple – and held a celebration which lasted eight days.
“Wow!” exclaimed the little Hanukiyah. “I’ve never heard that story before.”
“That’s not all,” continued the large Hanukiyah, “ever since then, about 2,000 years, the Jews have celebrated the victory of their ancestors with the lighting of candles for 8 nights. You and I are the special candle-holders which they use for those 8 nights.”
“Nah – really?” asked the little Hanukiyah.
“For sure”, replied the big one.
“I’m really glad you told me all of this”, said the little Hanukiyah. “I was beginning to feel pretty strange around here. I couldn’t figure out why I was so different. But, one question – that all sounds really good – but if this celebration lasts for 8 days – why do we have 9 places for candles?”
“You are very observant little one” answered the large Hanukiyah. “The extra candle holder – which is taller than the rest is for a special candle called the shamash – which is lit first and used to light the other candles.”
“This is amazing” said the little Hanukiyah. “I didn’t know that being different could be so exciting. I only wish that I had known this earlier – then I wouldn’t have had to stand behind this plate for so long gathering dust – which I’m allergic to. Achoo!”
“Remember” said the large Hanukiyah, “always keep your head high and your arms outstretched, because we are very important – we help Jews to celebrate their holiday of freedom and courage.”
And just then, the shopkeeper opened the door and entered the store. Both of the Hanukiyahs kept absolutely still and didn’t make another sound. And the shopkeeper had no idea that the two of them had talked the night away.
A strange thing happened though… the shopkeeper noticed the little Hanukiyah. He reached up and took it from the shelf and gave it a good polishing. Now the Hanukiyah was clean and shiny, and it stood so tall and proud knowing why it was different.
That same afternoon two children came into the store – noticed the sparkling Hanukiyah – and bought it right away. Taking it home, they placed it in the center of a large room table. Everyone who saw the Hanukiyah admired it. Together everyone gathered around as the candles were lit. In their soft glow, the children sang their songs and played with their spinning dreidels.
And the little Hanukiyah was proud to be a part of their celebration. And there it stood with its head high and its arms outstretched.