Towards the end of today’s daf (Pesachim 19b) the Gemara uses a curious phrase with reference to objects whose spiritual provenance is unknown.
Specifically, the topic being addressed in the daf is whether we should presume that an object, such as a needle or knife, is טמא (and has therefore conveyed טומאה to an animal)? Or whether we can presume that it is טהור?
To this, the Gemara responds that such objects are within the category of a דבר שאין בו דעת לישאל הוא, which though literally translates as ‘it is an item that does not have the knowledge to be asked’, means that it is an inanimate object that cannot be consulted with regard to how it became impure, or whether it became impure at all.
However, notwithstanding the truth of this statement, the use of this phrase leads us to wonder what certain objects would say if they could talk, and as tonight is Chanukah, and Jews around the world will be lighting their Chanukiot tonight, I wonder what those Chanukiot would say if they could speak?
Of course, some people will be lighting relatively new Chanukiot which may have been purchased in recent years from a nearby store. Given this, were these Chanukiot to be capable of talking, they would likely tell us of how they have been lit in or outside a home over a period of years while being surrounded by their owners and possibly their respective families. They would tell us of family, of Chanukah songs, of sweet foods and of celebration.
However, some people will be lighting Chanukiot that have travelled much further and which, over their longer lives, have heard and seen many different things. And were these Chanukiot to be able to talk, they would likely tell us of their journey, about the different places where they have been lit, and of how they have observed moments of joy and gladness, as well as periods of challenge and difficulty.
Tonight, many of us will be lighting the Chanukah candles with a different spirit to previous years. Not only has it been a very tough year for many people, and not only will many people not be gathering with family and friends to light their Chanukiah as they usually would, but in many families around the world there will be a missing person or persons who – either due to age, ill health, COVID or other tragic events – have died over the past year. And if our Chanukiah could see us, it would likely notice the strain and the pain that many of us have experienced this year.
Yet if it could speak, I suspect that our Chanukiah would tell us that the essence of Chanukah is about bringing light to this world even during the most difficult of circumstances; that Chanukah is about seizing opportunities to celebrate even during hard times, and that the message of Chanukah is about being loyal to what we believe, to what we love, and to who we are, despite whatever is going on around us.
Wishing you all a Chanukah Sameach!