Second candle

[Richard Armitage has stated that in lieu of a present at the holidays, he would prefer that you consider the needs of the less fortunate. I’m not sending him anything and all gifts proposed in this series, insofar as they actually exist, are notional. In the spirit of the season, readers may wish to consider donating in his honor to a group on his list of approved charities, which include the Salvation Army, an organization with outposts in many parts of the world outside of the UK. If international reades prefer a secular international charity, Richard has in the past endorsed Oxfam as well.]

Here’s how the menorah (chanukkiah) looks on the second night — another stolen picture. Note the motif of the Lion of Judah, which was the symbol of the tribe of Judah (and which later became one of the terms that early Christians took up as a description of Jesus). The occasion for the celebration of Chanukkah is an episode in the revolt of the Maccabees against the Seleucids, which took place in the second century BCE during the Hellenistic period (the period of Greek history defined by the successor kingdoms to Alexander the Great). The Seleucids followed the typical Hellenizing strategy of syncretism as part of their religious politics, associating the Greek gods with the deities of the people they governed. Antiochus IV was particularly aggressive in this regard, and his actions led to a profaning of the Temple, including the insertion of Greek idols within its precincts. After Judah Maccabee took back the Temple from Antiochus IV “Epiphanes” (I include that detail because the prince involved shared the same name as one of Mr. Armitage’s early roles, but of course there is no relationship, except, of course, that Cleopatra was the last representative of another Hellenizing dynasty, that of Egypt, the Ptolemies), the Jews who followed him and sought to re-dedicate the Temple (the notion at the root of the word for the holiday) found only enough oil to fuel the temple lights for one day — but miraculously it burned for eight days until new ritual oil could be be prepared.

One important takeaway from this holiday for many Jews is the theme of miracles. נס גדול היה שם –“a great miracle happened there” — the phrase signified in acronym on dreidels in the Diaspora.  Against all expectations, G-d makes the single container of oil the Maccabees can put their hands in the wake of the ritual devastation of the Temple by strange gods sufficient to burn for eight days. In the parlance of the world of the energy crisis, he secures their psychological energy source (the ritual oil was used to ignite lights that marked the divine presence) and thus helps them to follow his ordinances when material circumstances prevent them from doing so on their own. And the miracle G-d performs in doing so — as symbolized by the menorah — is emphatically not akin to the race many of us feel that we’re running in December, a rush to complete all the assignments and purchases and projects and appointments that get crammed into this month. So that we can eventually sit still — when? Against all of the darkness of December in the northern hemisphere (of this more tomorrow) and the growing demands for an ever more raucous celebration of the winter holiday that intensify as the month wears on, the menorah burns quietly but persistently, and as we get weaker, run down by our commitments and sometimes by our feelings of guilt over not fulfilling them or not absolving them well enough, its light becomes stronger. As its light grows from the single candle plus the shamash of the first night toward the full complement of candles at the end, the ongoing dissipation of shadow reminds us that the divine miracle of sufficiency is not a carefully measured out one, that like our energies peters out and ends in collapse, but instead a generous one that grows in power as the days pass. As we grow weaker, G-d’s miracles grow stronger and they make their most dramatic appearances as our human powerlessness becomes most evident. And we place the lit menorah in the window to show that the light is enough not only for us, but for our neighbors, too, and anyone else who needs the miracle of light and warmth this time of year.

Lately I’ve been trying to understand the growing light of the menorah in terms of an admonition to trust that even a little is enough to get the job done, and even if we don’t necessarily think so at first. The tiny but obstinate light of the first candle is enough to break the burden of darkness if we have faith that it will do so, and the later candles will come; when I get up some days I don’t think there’ll be enough of me to make it through to the end of the day, but in the end, what I can give is enough and however inadequate it seems to me, with the help of G-d, it will take on fire and not be overcome.

Hermione (Emma Watson) holds the Time-Turner that she (mis-)uses at the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to right the wrongs and disappointments of the initial narrative of events. My cap. (By the way, saw the latest Harry Potter movie over Thanksgiving weekend and loved it.)

On the second night of Chanukkah, I’m giving Richard Armitage a Time-Turner. (If you know the Harry Potter books, you’re aware that this device allows you to rewind time in order to reexperience it. You’re not supposed to use it for nefarious purposes, like changing the course of history, but only to allow yourself to take more classes at school — something I as a ridiculously curious person found insanely attractive about the device. If it’s ever invented, Servetus will be an early adopter and may go back for a few more academic degrees.) The main purpose of this gift is to allow Mr. Armitage to experience anything he’s missed involuntarily as a consequence of all of his hard work in the last few years — perhaps, for instance, to revive the social contacts endangered by his single-minded concentration on work on Strike Back — or to play with his nephew or go skiing with his mates a few more times. Of course, given his intensity and industry, there’s always the risk that he’ll use it not for leisure but indeed for more work, so this particular Time-Turner comes with a special feature: it will only work if he’s using it to do something he truly wants to do — and if this means work, then it will only operate for attractive creative projects, not because he thinks he has to stay in work in order to get more, or hypothesizes that his fans expect it from him. And this Time-Turner will self-combust if ever used to try to create more time to clean his house, no matter how messy it is.

Mr. Thornton walks across the factory courtyard at Marlborough Mills in North & South, episode 4. Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery. Thornton’s probably Mr. Armitage’s most industrious character, but even he found he couldn’t do it all on his own — divine intervention appearing in his case in the form of the miracle of Margaret Hale.

Mr. Armitage, like Mr. Thornton, you work so hard. I wish you a winter solstice holiday filled with the sense that what you do is enough. If you’re in any doubt: your work certainly sets us on fire!

Happy Chanukkah, Armitage fans!

~ by Servetus on December 3, 2010.

10 Responses to “Second candle”

  1. Is Chanukkah celebrated around the same time every year, or does it vary? Like Christmas, it’s always Dec. 24-25 (depending on country), Yule/Winter Solstice is around Dec. 21, and Ramadan seems to vary a lot, because it uses a completely different calendar.

    Just wondering, because the lighting of the candles around the time of the Winter Solstice is very symbolic, in the “bringing light back into the world” type way. Was wondering if there’s a connection. 🙂

    Like the time turner idea, but like you say, he’d probably only use it for more work … or maybe to clean the house! If I had one, at the moment, I’d use it to get the house sorted so I can put the Xmas tree up!

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    • yeah, Chanukkah follows the lunar calendar, so it varies from year to year, but this year is about as early as it falls on the solar calendar.

      If I had one I’d definitely use it to clean. However, I’d loop it around the necks of some helpers, too 🙂

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  2. servetus: “Against all of the darkness of December in the northern hemisphere (of this more tomorrow) and the growing demands for an ever more raucous celebration of the winter holiday that intensify as the month wears on, the menorah burns quietly but persistently, and as we get weaker, run down by our commitments and sometimes by our feelings of guilt over not fulfilling them or not absolving them well enough, its light becomes stronger.” Exquisitely written. Thank you. I needed this today.

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  3. This was beautiful and philosophical and very very enjoyable. It’s been a very hectic autumn, due to a love of new challenges, but sometimes I do wonder if I’ll get through all the projects, the “must-dos” and “should-dos”! The “would-like-to-dos” and “love-to-dos” can get squeezed out! Thank you for a timely reminder that there’s always time and energy for the important things and the rest can remain undone without our feeling bad about it.

    Yes, I hope the Time-Turner can be used for projects that bring joy! But sometimes getting the mundane tasks done can provide their own satisfaction, too!

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    • Did you manage all of your “must dos” yet? 🙂 Hope your Christmas holidays ofer you some opportunities for your “love to dos” as well, Milly.

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  4. […] Last year’s post, when I was concerned about the problem of having enough time and energy to do everything necessary, and gave Richard Armitage the notional gift of the feeling that he will have enough time to do everything he wants to do. New reflections follow. It’s a bit wild that a year ago tonight by the Jewish calendar I was writing that his work sets us on fire. That certainly happened last night! I have Chanukkah gifts for Armitage and more “Armitage menorah” photos, but this post was long enough. Why is there always so much to write about? […]

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  5. […] in the world, and many different ones represented also in the Richard Armitage fanblogosphere. Servetus’s posts about Chanukkah were an enlightening insight into the Jewish traditions for instance. As I’m not a celebrator […]

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  6. […] written in the past on the second night about the story of the menorah that would not sputter out and the miracles symbolism of the […]

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