Finding more meaning in 8 shining candles

My cousin Michael — the one who has taken on that immense task of compiling all the leaves on our many-branched family tree — had a very special relationship with the grandpa he called Zaidy (Michael’s spelling). Since Zaidy’s passing was during Hanukkah of 1978, Michael has made this his time of cemetery pilgrimage. And memories.
Every Hanukkah, he remembers how Zaidy would teach the words of Reb Nachman of Bratzlav as interpreted by Reb Shlomo Carlebach: “The candles we light on Hanukkah are the only real consolation for the children of Israel.” Says Michael, “From 1978 on, I and my entire family needed more than ever to find consolation in the lights of Hanukkah, as Zaidy’s passing left our world in real darkness.”
And this is what Reb Shlomo taught: We light the Hanukkah candles when the darkness and cold of winter reach their strongest points. With each passing day of Hanukkah, the number of lights gets greater, and the warmth emitted by these lights gets stronger. By the eighth day of Hanukkah, we will have lit 36 candles (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8, not counting the shamash that serves them all). These 36 candles symbolically correspond to the 36 hidden tzaddikim, the righteous individuals who, unidentified to us, are the pillars of our universe.
Reb Shlomo would also teach this: “The Hanukkah experience can best be understood as an encounter of former lovers who agree to meet every year for eight days, to reminisce as they also return to a place in time where their feelings of love are as strong again as they once were. For these eight days, we recreate that love, and the light of the Holy Temple, with hope that the whole world can witness the great light that once was and, God willing, will one day be again.”
Cousin Michael revered his Zaidy in life, just as that Zaidy had revered and passed on the teachings of Nachman and Carlebach. “My grandpa was a visionary,” he says. “A trailblazer. A spiritual giant. He left the only home he ever knew at the tender age of 16 and traveled across the ocean in search of a better world. And here, in his new country, he made sure that all his children — daughters as well as sons — received a good Jewish, as well as secular, education.”
Every Hanukkah, as Michael makes his cemetery visit, he also recalls that Reb Shlomo told the story of a boy who, after many years, finally discovered the grave of his beloved grandfather. Suddenly, his Zaidy was alive again, and the boy fell on the grave and said, “Zaidy, nobody ever took your place in my heart. Zaidy, do you know how much I love you? Do you know how much I miss you? All those years when I was crying inside — did you hear me?” And then the boy heard a voice: “My sweet child, I swear to you that your Zaidy heard you all the time. And your Zaidy hears you today.”
Michael is always comforted by The Testament, the words of Rabbi Richard Marcovitz, his family’s spiritual leader for decades, written before his death:
“Fret not at my passing, nor cry bitter tears. The Lord has been good to me for, lo, these 90 years.
“Don’t think I’m blind to tragedy, or that all my life was calm. But despite the storms and wounds I’ve witnessed, my family served as healing balm.
“I’ve lived to see children’s children, and to me they were truly grand. As I say goodbye to you, I pray that at God’s right I might stand.
“If my life can teach a lesson to every one of you, then let this be my testament: Be a mensch, which means — be a Jew.”
Because of what Michael has shared, I will stand before my menorah tonight with new knowledge and appreciation of those eight shining candles. May all of you do the same.

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