Five Little Candle Fires
"On this night, let us light, five little candle fires."
- Traditional Chanukah song
Today is the fifth day of Chanukah. Last night, the fifth night, has always been a special one in our family, for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, today, Kislev 29, is my Hebrew birthday. Though I always mainly celebrated my English/solar birthday - if for no other reason then to keep it from getting obscured by the general Chanukah festivities - our family did set aside this day as one for special celebration as well. Our Chanukah gelt/presents were invariably distributed on the fifth night.
The fifth night is also the exact middle of Chanukah; four days gone, four still to come. Thus it represents the pivot around which the holiday revolves, to use a dreidle metaphor. As a radical moderate, this appeals to me at a gut level; the center point of any occasion, cycle, or series is always where I feel most at home.
Treppenwitz noted yesterday that the fifth day of Chanukah also has religious significance, as it is the only day which can never coincide with Shabbos. He mentions a general practice - which I believe is of kabbalistic origin- of adding extra joy on this day. I don't know if this is an additional reason that my family gave it prominence, though I'm sure my dad was aware of the custom.
As with all areas of my life now, this day now blends a measure of sorrow into the joy. Watching the five candles burning in each of our chanukiot last night, it was hard not to think of how that number has become tragically significant to our family. We were once a family of six, now that number is diminished, Aaron forever lost to us.
Most of the time - though not without a lot of effort - I can push aside the constant reminders of Aaron's absence, stem the grief that threatens to overwhelm me all over again (or did it ever stop doing so?) Since Aaron's loss nineteen months ago, holidays have been when this is the most difficult, when I am most in danger of falling back into utter sadness and misery. These past few days of Chanukah have been no exception.
But last night, my special fifth night of Chanukah, as I continued to gaze at the burning candles, I realized that the sad group of five was not the complete story. After all, there was a sixth flame in my chanukiah - the shamash, the helper candle. The one that provides light to the others, yet stand apart from and above them. Not in their midst, yet still burning, still inseparable all the same. The significance and relevance of this image struck me deeply.
Aaron, may your pure soul continue to be a heavenly shamash for the rest of us, and may your memory continue to shine light into our darkness.