December 12, 2014 admin

Love is not forgotten

‘You won’t be forgotten’: over the years I have found myself sitting several times with a young parent who knows she’s dying. Among the many facets of loss is the realisation that he or she won’t be there to share the adventure of the children’s lives, the first snowfall or sight of the sea, next birthday, the anxiety of the exams which measure out the teenage years. Within these thoughts lies a further depth, the sorrow not just of losing, but of being lost, even to memory:  ‘My children won’t know who I was. They won’t know what I looked like. They’ll never feel how much I love them.’
I don’t believe in false reassurance. But in this case it can and should be genuinely given: ‘Your children won’t forget you. Your place inside their hearts is irremovable. Love is not forgotten.’
I believe Chanukkah is about just this, the symbolic expression of the enduring power of courage, inspiration, goodness and love.
Of course, on the literal plane Chanukkah has little to do with such matters. In the classic rabbinic formulation it is ‘the proclamation of the miracle’. It is the fearless expression (since we are instructed in the first instance to light the candles where they’ll be most visible to the greatest possible public) of the miracle of the victory of the Maccabees over the far superior forces of the Seleucid Greeks under Antiochus and his generals in the 2ndcentury BCE, the victory of faith over apostasy, of faithfulness to who we truly are over the assimilatory desire to fit in with whatever popular fashions might prevail.
But it wasn’t the military, or even the cultural, victory the rabbis chose to celebrate, important as they were. They determined that we should commemorate Chanukkah with light, always a symbol of the spirit, as the prophet Zachariah said, ‘Not by might, and not by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord’.
Was it literally true that the Maccabees found in the ruins of the recaptured Temple in Jerusalem just one sole jar of oil intact with the High Priest’s seal, which, when they used it to light the Menorah, burnt for eight whole days until fresh supplies of oil could be brought from the far north? Or is it just a legend? That’s not the important question.   
What the rabbis wanted us to reflect on is that light and spirit always burn far longer than we imagine.
Love and compassion may often be instinctive; inspiration may flow from the heart quicker than the speed of thought. But in other circumstances, in conditions of totalitarian terror or inner anguish, it may take time before the moral commitment to goodness and kindness prevails over the fear of the consequences.
Often in a callous world people feel that what they do is simply futile, a candle to the wind. Yet time and again, it burns for longer than reason would think possible. One person’s kindness kindles that of another; courage inspires courage, and love sets light to goodness and love. What should have illumined just one hour gives light to an entire life, and time and even death fail to extinguish the power and depth of the spirit.
I think of the Czech woman who sent parcels to my great-grandmother in Theresienstadt in 1943, from whose daughter I was forwarded last month a letter written in 2002: ‘My mother sent parcels, but heard nothing back,’ she wrote, ‘Those good people vanished without trace.’ I replied that I had evidence that those parcels did arrive; they couldn’t save my great-grandmother but they did save other lives. I sent my letter two weeks ago; now I’m waiting for the postman to bring an envelope with a Czech stamp.
Closer to home, I think of my own grandparents and parents. What has the power to extinguish love? Such love, furthermore, is not just memory; it’s what’s alive and burns in one’s own heart. Nothing shall put it out.

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