Not that it’s a contest, but when it comes to fireworks, the outside world doesn’t hold a candle – Roman or otherwise, to us. As Jews, we are the world champion of fireworks. Realize, if you will, that 70 candles are lit annually in Jewish households where festivals and holidays are observed. That’s in addition to yahrzeit candles, Havdalah candles, Shiva candles (G-d forbid,) and Shabbat candles. But it’s more than just numbers! Fireworks are designed to light up the skies. Candles in Jewish homes are designed to light up our lives.
With the exception of one middle letter, the Hebrew word for fire, eish, and the Hebrew word for human, ish, are identical. As far as Judaism is concerned, it is more than mere coincidence. Fire can only exist in a medium where there is both fuel and oxygen. Take away either the fuel or the oxygen and the fire will quickly die out. The very same holds true for humans. Humans also require fuel and oxygen. Take away either the fuel (food) or the oxygen and the human will ultimately die. Judaism, however, goes even one step further when it comes to humans. Aside from food and air, Judaism understands the two necessary components for survival as metaphors for physicality and spirituality. For a healthy life, both are necessary. This is why Judaism looks at the flame of a candle and sees it reaching high, as though it were clamoring for spirituality, only to be reminded that it must remain anchored to the candle, its source of fuel representing the material world.
Fireworks not only light up the skies, but they do so with resplendent colors. Come July 4th of each year, the night skies are sprayed with a panoply of colors that might well cause artists to sit up and take notice. In this realm, Judaism cannot compete, nor does it have any desire to do so. The flames that have served to illuminate Jewish homes over the millennia are comprised of colors that are basic and simple – orange/yellow and blue/black. Whether the flames celebrate a miraculous event (Chanukah) or a heartbreaking event (Shiva,) Judaism reminds us that life – a healthy, normal life – is a combination of dark days represented by the blue/black hue and bright days represented by the orange/yellow hue. Judaism also reminds us that a healthy, normal life is one that is no different than the typical flame; the orange/yellow bright days will far outshine the blue/black dark days.
Last but not least, fireworks are bedazzling. The intricate designs that streak across the horizon, resulting from engineered ingredients within every candle, Roman or otherwise, explain why Americans set aside time and make it a point to watch the fireworks displays. Jewish “fireworks” are limited to one design. Most dismiss Jewish “fireworks” as a mere flame. Precious few realize that that flame shape and tear shape are one and of the same. And with good reason! Just as Judaism recognizes two primary colors of flames, so too does Judaism recognize two different types of tears. There are tears of sadness; there are tears of joy. While I doubt any studies have been made or any polls taken, I can’t help but wonder which candles are lit, if any, in greater number in Jewish homes, yahrzeit candles or Shabbat/festival candles. I pray that it is the latter. In life, there will always be tears. G-d willing, the tears of joy will far outnumber the tears of sadness.
In all likelihood, the fireworks celebrating July 4th leave a special impression. I hope the fireworks celebrating the Jewish calendar as well as Jewish life-cycle events will do the very same, if not more.