NB: This piece is only partly fiction. I was alone on the first night of Chanukah. My husband was in the hospital. We hope and pray for good test results. He came home before the second night of Chanukah and is recovering at home now. If you liked my writing in this piece, check out my e-book sites on http://ow.ly/qPTxb (Amazon.co.uk) http://tinyurl.com/pxqznpf (Amazon.com) http://ow.ly/qJNIf (Renanabooks.com for Apple and iPad) and of course http://www.ruthiepearlman.com my own website, and you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Now read on…
She buys the ready-to-light Menorah kit. She has never lit a Menorah on her own in her life before. He has always been there. Always been there. Now he is lying in that forbidding hospital, where the very smell of it is the smell of death. She feels it contaminates her whenever she goes in there to visit him; feels she has to wash herself clean of it whenever she emerges.
They have been married a long long time; many years, and have never been apart on Chanukah before. Once, when the children were small, he would light the Menorah, and while they sung the special Chanukah song “Ma’oz Tzur”; the liturgical poem that lists the many times God has delivered the Jewish people from their enemies; he would take the children; form a circle in the room, and dance around with them, and she too would dance with them all. Egypt, Babylonia, Syria and Greeks alike, had all sought to destroy the Israelites, and God had protected all of them and had brought them out triumphant from all the crushing force of their enemies.
Why can’t God protect him now? Why is he lying in that hospital bed, so weak, so wan, so drained of all the essence that had made him dance around that room so long ago?
What is so special about this enemy?
She looks at the packaging of the ready-to-light Menorah kit. It is baffling. She can’t understand the picture demonstrating how to put the cups full of oil, hermetically sealed, into the Menorah. If they are sealed, how can she light them? She takes out one of the cups, looks at it, turns it over and over in her hands trying to work out which end she should light. Thinks about getting out a packet of coloured candles from the cupboard instead. Giving up.
How can she expect him not to give up, if she is already giving up?
She holds the little plastic cup full of olive oil, hermetically sealed, and thinks about that one little flagon of olive oil found in Solomon’s Temple by the victorious Maccabees; history’s freedom fighter brothers. That had been hermetically sealed too, and was therefore suitable to light the holy Menorah. If Judah Maccabee had managed, so can she. And so can he learn to fight for his freedom; his freedom from that sickness and pain; his freedom to come home and be with her again.
She is not yet ready to give him up.
She makes a phone call to her daughter. “Can you help me with this ready to light Menorah?”
In a heartbeat; in as long it would take the blood pressure machine by his bedside to tighten and loosen again in its relentless squeezing journey round his arm, her daughter is opening her back door with her key, and coming in, leading her own small daughter by the hand.
Within a second, she shows her mother that you have to remove the blue plastic lids to the cups. Then they suddenly look like normal Menorah cups of oil, their wicks reaching for the light of the match like a flower stem reaches for the sun. She puts the two cups in the Menorah; one for the Shamash, the other for the first night of Chanukah.
“Say the beracha, Mummy,” she coaxes, “we’ll answer Amen.”
Without hesitation, without even needing to consult a text, she touches the match to the wicks. They respond with the purest light, the light that only olive oil can produce. Tears blur her eyes as she recites all the blessings over the Menorah. Hasn’t she listened to him saying it for forty five years or more? Aren’t the words of the prayers engraved on her heart? She says the words as if she is forcing them to fly through the distance between her and him, for she is saying them on his behalf.
He, who is lying there, will be listening. She is sure of that. And she is sure too, that He who is above his bed, will be listening too.
Then it is time to sing the Ma’oz Tzur.
She looks hesitatingly at her daughter. Her daughter reaches out both her hands. One to her mother, and one to the child. The child takes her grandmother’s hand; and they form a circle of three. They dance around, singing the words of the eternal song of victory.
A small echo of the family that once danced in this house. But a powerful message to God that, like the words of the Ma’oz Tzur, the small overcame the mighty, the few defeated the many, the weak overpowered the strong.
Her prayers would defeat this enemy too. By her tears, as she dances with her daughter and granddaughter, those tears that, like the oil in the Menorah, would go straight to their Source, and He would comfort them.