DEEP in his soul he began to feel the need of being a Jew. His circumstances were not unsatisfactory; he enjoyed an ample income and a profession that permitted him to do whatever his heart desired. For he was an artist. His Jewish origin and the faith of his fathers had long since ceased to trouble him, when suddenly the old hatred came to the surface again in a new mob-cry. With many others he believed that this flood would shortly subside. But there was no change for the better; and every blow, even though not aimed directly at him, struck him with fresh pain, till little by little his soul became one bleeding wound.
These sorrows, buried deep in his heart and silenced there, evoked thoughts of their origin and of his Judaism; and now he did something he could not perhaps have done in the old days—he began to love his Judaism with an intense fervour. Although in his own eyes he could not, at first, clearly justify this new yearning, it became so powerful at length that it crystallized from vague emotions into a definite idea which he must needs express. It was the conviction that there was only one solution for this moral misery—the return to Judaism.
The Jew of to-day had lost the poise which was his fathers’ very being. This generation, having grown up under the influence of alien cultures, was no longer capable of that return which he had perceived to be their redemption. But the new generation would be capable of it, if it were only given the right direction early enough. He resolved, therefore, that his own children, at least, should be shown the proper path. They should be trained as Jews in their own home.
Hitherto he had permitted to pass by unobserved the holiday which the wonderful apparition of the Maccabees had illumined for thousands of years with the glow of miniature lights. Now, however, he made this holiday an opportunity to prepare something beautiful which should be for ever commemorated in the minds of his children. In their young souls should be implanted early a steadfast devotion to their ancient people. He bought a Menorah, and when he held this nine-branched candlestick in his hands for the first time, a strange mood came over him. In his father’s house also the lights had once burned in his youth, now far away, and the recollection gave him a sad and tender feeling for home.
The tradition was neither cold nor dead—thus it had passed through the ages, one light kindling another. Moreover, the ancient form of the Menorah had excited his interest. Clearly the design was suggested by the tree—in the centre the sturdy trunk, on right and left four branches, one below the other, in one place, and all of equal height. A later symbolism brought with it the short ninth branch, which projects in front and functions as a servant. What mystery had the generations which followed one another read into this form of art, at once so simple and natural! And our artist wondered to himself if it were not possible to animate again the withered form of the Menorah—to water its roots, as one would a tree. The mere sound of the name, which he now pronounced every evening to his children, gave him great pleasure. There was a lovable ring to the word when it came from the lips of little children.
On the first night the candle was lit and the origin of the holiday explained. The wonderful incident of the lights that strangely remained burning so long, the story of the return from the Babylonian exile, the second Temple, the Maccabees—our friend told his children all he knew. It was not very much, to be sure; but it served. When the second candle was lit, they repeated what he had told them; and though it had all been learnt from him, it seemed to him quite new and beautiful. In the days that followed, he waited keenly for the evenings which became ever brighter. Candle after candle stood in the Menorah, and the father mused on the little candles with his children till at length his reflections became too deep to be uttered before them.
Then came the eighth day, when the whole row burns, even the faithful ninth, the servant, which on other nights is used only for the lighting of the others. A great splendour streamed from the Menorah. The children’s eyes glistened. But for our friend all this was the symbol of the enkindling of a nation. When there is but one light, all is still dark, and the solitary light looks melancholy. Soon it finds one companion, then another, and another. The darkness must retreat. The light comes first to the young and the poor—then others join who love Justice, Truth, Liberty, Progress, Humanity, and Beauty. When all the candles burn, then we must all stand and rejoice over the achievement. And no office can be more blessed than that of a Servant of the Light.
(Trans. B. L. Pouzzner.)