Miriam Newell Biskin
Once there was a little girl who loved the songs and games and gifts of Hanukkah. Then, one evening, sitting by the kitchen table, she heard talk of the famed Rabbi Itzak Ben-Naftali Ha-Cohen and devised a plan.
"He's the seventh son of a seventh son," said Uncle Herschel, sipping his glass of tea.
"An authority on Talmud and Midrash," said Uncle Benjamin, munching on a kichel.
"An explorer of Kaballah," whispered her father. "He has powers far beyond those of ordinary men."
The Rabbi could help, she was sure. So, using the lavender monogrammed stationery which was a gift for her last birthday and her best cursive penmanship, she labored over seven letters asking the Rabbi to make every day Hanukkah. Then each day of the next week, she posted one letter,
but there was no reply until the afternoon of the 24th day of Kislev.
Standing by the window, she watched the mailman coming up the walk, and ran to the hallway just in time to see a white envelope drop through the letter slot. Hands trembling, she ripped open the flap and slowly deciphered the script.
Her wish was granted ! But for some reason, she felt no desire to confide in anyone. Instead, she folded the note carefully and hid it in her bottom desk drawer. Then she went into the kitchen to help with the ordinary once-a-year Hanukah chores, peeling apples for mother's fresh applesauce and potatoes for mother's latke batter. She helped to set the table with the best linen and china and to polish the Hanukiah, the nine-branched candelabrum.
Finally, at sundown, the family gathered to watch her father strike
the match to ignite the shamus, the servant candle, and then hold
it out to her, the eldest, to light the first candle. Together, they chanted
the ancient blessing, chorused their "amens," and sat down at the
table...but not before Grandfather handed each child a bag of gold-foil-wrapped
"Your Hanukah gelt," he said.
"Later," warned mother, already placing dishes piled high with slices of savory chicken and brisket and stacks of potato pancakes with a big bowl of fresh applesauce on the table.
"Yummy," said the little girl, cleaning up the last morsel. "I can't eat another thing."
She was serious until she began to win piles of chocolate coins playing the dreidel game.
"Nun, " complained her brother. "I get nothing."
"Better than Shin," whined his little sister. "I lose my coins."
"Nes-Gadal-Hayah-Shem, a great miracle happen there" laughed the little girl, nibbling the chocolate.
"Something wonderful happened for me."
Then Grandfather began the story of the Maccabees, describing the brave Jews driving out the pagan invaders, and the little girl dozed off. Then he told of the people cleaning the Temple and finding only a day's supply of oil for the lamp.The little girl snoozed, and by the time he came to the miracle of
the lights, she was in dreamland.
Awakened by her own snoring and the others' laughter, she was upset, but then as she realized that she wasn't going to have to wait another year to hear the same tale. She had the Rabbi's promise.
It was a happy week of feasting and gift-giving. Each night, they lit the candles and chanted the blessing, but she felt no impulse to share her secret. It would be fun to see their surprise.
On the eighth day, she watched mother heat the oil in the skillet to fry more latkes and heard her sigh, "I'm beginning to hate potatoes."
Mother looked so tired that the little girl almost wished it was the last day, and , in a moment, she mistook for common sense, she reassured herself that tomorrow would be a regular day. Not even the seventh son of a seventh son could grant such a wish.
But, when she came down to breakfast the next day, the kitchen
was filled with the aroma of brisket already in the over and mother was
standing by the kitchen sink, grating potatoes.
"Hanukah is over," she whispered.
"Not on my calendar," was mother's sharp answer.
"My belt says it should be over," said father.
"You eat too much," said Grandmother.
"Didn't we light eight candles last night ?" asked brother.
"You're dreaming," said Grandfather.
She ate little at breakfast or lunch, but at dinner, she struggled over a thin slice of brisket and one small pancake. This was after an unenthusiastic candle-lighting and a weary chanting of Mao T'zur. Then came the next day...
"My hands are sore," lamented mother.
"My stomach's upset."complained father.
"My back hurts,"said Grandmother. "The guest room beds are too small."
"And too soft," added Grandfather. "They're aggravating my arthritis."
The derailed game was a disaster as cries of "You're cheating"and "You're stupid" filled the house.
"Nun-Gimel-Hai-Shin,"moaned the little sister, tearfully. "Something horrible is happening here."
The little girl began to agree. Everyone was cranky, no longer delivering nicely wrapped and beribboned presents. Instead, newspaper covered boxes were thrown through open windows or over fences. Some even threw packages right at their friends.
"It's unbelievable," said father, reading the morning paper. "Hospitals are crowded with concussion cases, and the courts are filled with assault suits."
"Look at the prices," said mother. "Only a millionaire can buy
"And potatoes," said Grandma. " They say Jews have eaten so many
that everyone thinks there is a potato famine."
The little girl kept quiet, scared at the thought of everyone's anger at her for causing such catastrophic events. She hated to sleep because of her nightmares; she hated to awaken because her days were all the same.
Then it was Tu B'Shevat, and instead of the traditional cedars or cypress, the synagogue members planted apple trees. But this didn't help the floods. So many forests had been cut down for wood for paper for cards and wrappings, there were nothing to hold back the spring rains.
By this time, the worried little girls wrote note after
note to the Great Rabbi, but each one was returned stamped MOVED..UNABLE
TO DELIVER...NO FORWARDING ADDRESS. She tried telephone INFORMATION, and
received the recorded message, "That number is unlisted."
As Purim approached, she grew desperate. She couldn't believe that her brother and sister were even interested in the upcoming holiday.
"I want to be Vashti,"said sister.
"I'll be Haman," said brother.
"Maybe I could be Queen Ester," whimper the little girl.
"You could be the three little pigs," snapped mother, unhappy because her hamantashen looked like pancakes and tasted like potatoes.
That night, in the synagogue, she listened to the story of the brave queen who had saved the Jewish people and began to feel hopeful.
As Esther's name was cheered and Haman's name was booed, she felt a new presence in the room...a white- bearded, dark-robed old gentleman stood in the doorway. Perhaps it was someone masquerading as old Mordechai or perhaps...
Quickly, she moved to the place where she had seen him standing, but no one was there. Anxiously, she rushed out into the dimly-lit hallway,
"Looking for me ?" asked the old man, stepping out of the shadows.
"You didn't answer my letters."
"I heard your heart's voice."
"Oh, Great Rabbi, " she pleaded, " stop my wish. I don't care
if it is ever Hanukah again."
Slowly, he withdrew one hand from the shelter of his robe and waggled a bony finger in her face.
"Don't be rash," he warned. " Jewish children should hear the stories of Hanukkah and enjoy the celebration."
The little girl nodded. Perhaps every millennium or every century or every decade wouldn't be too bad.
"Think hard," the rabbi said, waiting for her to re-consider the
Eyes closed, expression intent, he seemed to read her mind as she finally decided that once a year was just right.
"Today, my child, you became a woman of wisdom. Selah."
Then he disappeared into the darkness, leaving her with the echo of that last word...Selah..and as if he had told her himself, she knew it meant "forever."
from the December 2000 Edition of the Jewish Magazine