I recently came across an interesting article in the technology section of the Wall Street Journal. The article was about smart ovens; ovens with artificial intelligence. You can take a piece of seasoned fish, stick a prod in it, and put it in the oven. The oven recognizes that what is inside of it is indeed a fish and the oven begins cooking it to its own learned specifications. And, if you are a busy person who is cooking while trying to complete other tasks elsewhere in your home, you can turn on the oven app on your smartphone, and a camera can show you via live stream what is happening inside of your oven.
The gemara in Masechet Peshahim connects a few verses to each other in order to establish that searching for hametz must be done by the light of a flame. In Mishlei “The human spirit is the lamp of Hashem, searching every inmost part/נֵר ה’ נִשְׁמַת אָדָם חֹפֵשׂ, כָּל-חַדְרֵי-בָטֶן.” And in Zephaniah, “And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with lamps/וְהָיָה בָּעֵת הַהִיא, אֲחַפֵּשׂ אֶת-יְרוּשָׁלִַם בַּנֵּרוֹת.” The Sefas Emes comes to teach that during the time that the Temple stood, it was very clear that everything in this world came from Hashem. Now, without the physical structure, we need help finding that point within us that shines and reminds us that Hashem dwells within us. We might know that the Mishkan and The Beit Hamikdash and Yerushalayim are inside of us, that God dwells within us, as it says “ושכנתי בתוכם”, but that does not mean that we actually see it or internalize it and its demands on us.
In Jeremiah it is written “She is Zion, nobody seeks her/צִיּוֹן הִיא, דֹּרֵשׁ אֵין לָהּ.” And the Gemara in Maeshect Sukkah teaches the fact that nobody is looking for her, implies that she should be sought. The Sfas Emes understand this to teach that from the fact that we do not see our inner point of holiness/נקודה פנימית means that it must be sought--we need to do some soul searching. This is the purpose of the Hannukah candles. Their light shows us what is inside of ourselves. That divine spark is always there, but we often need help to see it. This is only the first step.
Back to our smart oven. Even though I can see inside of it through an amazing aid, it can’t do everything for me. I still have to go back and flip the fish to ensure that it does not burn. So too with the Hanukkah candles. Once I light them, and am able to take a look inside, the task is not over. It should serve as a reminder that the necessary work to illuminate the world with God’s light has only just begun.
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Hanukkah Sameah,
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.