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The Fire of Youth

It was the afternoon preceding the first night of Chanukah, just a few hours to go until a very eager seven-year-old would light an oil menorah for the first time ever. His excitement couldn’t be contained, and the acoustics in my house — or my brain — just weren’t made to handle this level of exuberance. I also love Chanukah, but that didn’t make me cry the previous night that it wasn’t Chanukah yet.

Menorahs were set up, hungry stomachs were filled with a light pre-latke dinner, and the waiting began. No longer able to light kollel-style at the zeman, the kids had to wait until after work when Tatty would be home to light with us. As we settled in for the long haul it became apparent that for some of us waiting was harder than for others, and it was hardest of all for an eager seven-year-old boy who was lighting an oil menorah for the very first time.

Gathering up a shofar for effect and to remind us that the Maccabim acted l’Sheim Shamayim, opening a siddur to Maoz Tzur, and marching around the living room Yericho-style while singing shirah to Hashem took us through the first half hour. The noise level was astounding, my other kids were pleading for volume control, and the baby wouldn’t nurse from distraction.

At that point, careful not to squash my son’s love for a mitzvah, I sat him down on the couch with a book of stories from the times of the Gemara. “Read,” I commanded him. “It’s a really good book.”

Two quiet minutes and then an ear-splitting growl. I gave a jump and he looked up with a sheepish grin. “The king was FURIOUS,” he growled again, only slightly quieter this time, clearly quite pleased with his ability to impersonate the Roman emperor.

He then managed to get through a few pages on his own, until mention was made of Eliyahu Hanavi, a topic apparently close to his heart, for he began to pepper me with questions. Have I seen Eliyahu Hanavi, has he seen Eliyahu Hanavi, how will he know if he sees Eliyahu Hanavi, and maybe he will see Eliyahu Hanavi but he’ll think he’s a ghost.

And once on the topic: Who’s greater — Eliyahu Hanavi or malachim like Gavriel, because Eliyahu was a person who became an angel while the others were created as angels. And as an important aside, if the cup of Eliyahu is completely empty on the Seder night, it must mean that Eliyahu drank it because a person can never finish it until the absolute last drop.

It was a long — and loud — afternoon. Tatty did eventually come home, a certain eager seven-year-old did a beautiful job lighting his oil menorah for the very first time, and we all enjoyed singing, latkes, dreidel, Chanukah stories, and more singing by the lights of the menorah. Eventually the kids were all in bed, my husband was in shul, and it was just me and the baby sitting quietly by the menorah’s tiny luminous lights.

So why did I feel so… sad?

I’d been tired from a long day’s work, from taking care of the house and kids, from all my blessings, and in turn, my son’s afternoon was filled with admonishments for quiet, for less thumping, for quiet, for less bumping, and did I mention for quiet?

One day he will also G-d willing be tired and busy and 34 years old. He will have had many chances to light his very own oil menorah. But it will never again be for the very first time.

And I will pull out these dusty memories, shake them out and air them so they are fresh. I will remind him about his excitement and unbridled joy.

But still, it will no longer be his very first time.

I went to bed that night thinking these melancholy thoughts, wishing I had done things differently, perhaps joined in his excitement a bit more and tried a bit less to contain it. I made up my mind to talk to him about it in the morning, to find out how it was for him.

“Shmuel,” I started carefully first thing in the morning. “I’ve never met a boy who was so excited to light the menorah. Did you love how things went last night? What was your best part of the night?”

“Yes!” he answered, rushing quickly past all my inquiries. “And I am so excited to light it again tonight!”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 619)

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