101. The Wink

101. The Wink

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

The Wink

We light candles in testament that faith makes miracles possible.

~Nachum Braverman

Every year at Hanukkah Grandma Sally lit her menorah from the wrong end. Every year my dad (her son) blew out the incorrect candle and lit the right one before the blessings and the dinner began.

And every time he did that Grandma Sally chastised him affectionately for not leaving well enough alone.

That was the signal for me to begin reciting a scaled-down version of the Hanukkah Story, making sure to include an explanation as to why the holiday began with the lighting of the candle on the far right.

As I recited, Grandma Sally would wave her hand dismissively from side-to-side always with an accompanying “tsk-tsk” to show her disapproval for the exactness of this candle-lighting tradition.

Sometimes I was convinced that Grandma Sally had gone slightly senile and that accounted for her confusion, but when I brought that up to my dad in her defense, he countered by telling me she was sharper than our finest holiday cutlery

I knew Grandma Sally adored my dad so I could not imagine her intentionally trying to upset him by knowingly lighting the wrong candle.

I also knew that she knew Jewish customs and law as well as any rabbi. So what accounted for this aberrational Hanukkah behavior?

After many years of candle-lighting chaos I finally asked Grandma Sally (out of earshot of my dad) what was behind her apparent rebellion.

“When Grandpa Joe passed away I wanted to stop celebrating Hanukkah. To me, the world had grown dim. But your father was adamant that we celebrate the holiday for your benefit, and because you were my first-born grandchild I honored his wishes. That first Hanukkah I unpacked the menorah Grandpa Joe had used ever since he was a little boy. He would always cup my hand in his and we would light the menorah together as a perfect team. I couldn’t light it without his hand around mine so I bought a new menorah, the kind with orange bulbs rather than candles.

“That first year, right before you came over for the first night of Hanukkah, I tested all the lights to be sure they worked. Every bulb lit up except the one farthest to the left. I tightened it, then loosened it, then re-tightened it and then tried all the other bulbs on the menorah in its place. It stubbornly would not light so I figured the socket was bad and I would return it to the store in the morning.

“After you left that evening I switched off the menorah and went to bed. I had trouble sleeping so I curled up in my favorite cozy corner by the fireplace and started looking through one of our photo albums. I came to a beautiful picture of Grandpa Joe and me lighting the menorah many years before you were even born. As I went to turn the page I noticed a light flickering by the window. When I moved the curtain aside, the little orange menorah bulb farthest to the left was blinking on and off. It only blinked long enough for me to notice it and long enough for me to smile. When I turned the menorah back on and tightened all the bulbs in place every one lit up brightly except the one farthest to the left. Each year since then when I light the candles on our menorah I honor Grandpa Joe by starting on the left. It’s my special wink to him. I know that God would understand and I hope that every rabbi would find it in his heart to do the same.”

Grandma Sally has not celebrated with us for a very long time (at least in the traditional way that is). But, I certainly feel her hand cupped around mine every Hanukkah when I light the first night’s candle (the one farthest from the left).

~Lisa Leshaw

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