The Little Candle That Wouldn't


“I ask you,” fumed Red. “Was that any way to live a life? Squished in a red tin container– above the kitty litter, no less — just waiting for our turn to burn to death? Well I won’t do it.”

A photograph of the candles that inspired this playful piece of writing. Credit: Bonnie Gracer.

“You mean our turn to shine, Red — to declare the miracle of Chanukah,” said Shamash.
“Shut up Shamash. Just because you were picked to be the Shamash you think you are so high and mighty, elevated above everybody else. Don’t forget your roots. You are made out of wax just like the rest of us – red wax, just like me — and you too are being extinguished as we speak.”
“Hey, I worked hard for that promotion,” said Shamash. It’s taken me years to get noticed.”
“Give me a break,” said Red. You were grabbed indiscriminately. Face facts: you are a leader by happenstance.”
“Be that as it may,” said Yellow, standing tall, “I for one am proud to proclaim the miracle. Red, you may see a half-burned candle. As a Yellow, I see the glass as half full. This ball of wax is shining bright. And I could care less if Shamash stands higher than us. Don’t forget: each of us represents one of the eight days of the miracle. Shamash is our servant.”
“Well I am Yellow too,” said Yellow Two, but I have to agree with Red. Can’t you see I’m melting?? This is not a party, you know. Just look at these blisters!”
“Well it could be a party if this cat lover would get herself a family already,” said Bla. How lonely: two sisters calling each other long distance to sing the blessings together. ‘course, nobody cares what I think, because I don’t have a color.”
“I think it’s sweet that they call each other,” said Yellow dreamily. “Love between sisters is so powerful. Besides, don’t forget — it’s because of that sister that you have a leg to stand on. She brought Menorah back from the Holy Land. Without Menorah, we’d really be stuck in that container! Be grateful, Bla! It’s a wonderful life.”
“Oh Yellow,” crooned Orange leaning closer. “You are so magical when you’re happy. And Bla, since you don’t have a color, why not look on the bright side? My goodness — with your blasé outlook, you don’t need an actual fire to extinguish you – you do it all by yourself. Remember what we are here for. This is a happy holiday!”
“This is a ridiculous holiday,” said Red. The blessing makes no sense: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who commanded us to kindle the lights of Chanukah.” Where or when did God command anyone to kindle the lights of Chanukah? Was it in the desert with Moses? No. Is it in the Bible? No. Did Chanukah even happen in the biblical era? No. Have we had revelation since Moses? No. My fellow candles, we are melting away for nothing.”
“Calm down, Red,” said Purple. You’re getting yourself all bent out of shape. Judaism isn’t only about the Bible – we have traditions and laws from our rabbis, too!”
Red ignored him. “And about this miracle business — one day’s worth of oil lasting eight days. Come on. Are we seriously buying this? Don’t get me wrong, though. There definitely was a miracle. Jewish survival – now there is your miracle. And I don’t just mean survival in the face of anti-Semitism. No, I’m talking about survival against internal implosion. And it’s ongoing. Maccabees and Hellenistic Jews; Ultraorthodox and Tel Aviv dancers; girls who wear shorts and boys who wear the wrong color hat: who is good enough, real enough, authentic enough, holy enough, Jewish enough – for God’s sakes, enough!”
“I agree. Besides, our miracles may run dry someday,” chimed Shamash. I wish everyone would focus on shining instead of burning. Speaking of which, Yellow…. What’s with your attitude about servants? Where would we all be without the Shamash? None of us can be used for work, you know. Without the Shamash, there would be no Menorah lighting. All of us are important to continuing the tradition.”

Credit: Ruth Golmant.

“All important, are we?” asked Bla. Well I have a question then. There are programs and Menorah slots for Reds, and Purples, and all the other “pretty” colors. But because we No Color Candles are different, we are named “Bla” and usually deemed too ugly to include. And what about the candles whose wicks are hard to find – is it their fault they have shy wicks? No. But do people include the Shy Wicks in their Menorahs, or throw them away? Where do we fit in? Don’t we all belong?”
“Why Bla, you have a flame after all!” beamed Orange.
Bla twinkled and said, “Let all of our candles (including those that are blistered, no-wicked, no-colored, or bent out of shape), stand tall together, and proclaim the daily miracles that surround us. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who inspired the Rabbis to think it might possibly be a good idea to light some candles on Chanukah.”
Bonnie Gracer works at the national level on disability policy, rights, and research. One Chanukah she discovered her confusion about the Chanukah candle blessings. This led her to learn more about Judaism and rabbinic tradition, including earning a Master of Arts in Jewish Studies from Baltimore Hebrew University alongside her existing Master of Social Work from Catholic University. She loves to write, and this piece was inspired by a red candle in her menorah one yearthat bent into a circle and lost its flame (see picture). She credits her friend Michael Sultan for coming up with the revised Chanukah blessing in the last line of this piece.

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