“HaMorah Esther, I have a question.”
It really is one of my favorite phrases.
When one of my students asks me, “Why do we light the hanukiah this way?” or “How long should my candles burn for?” my answer is often, “It depends on who you ask.”
Then they roll their eyes at me a little because they know what is coming next. My eyes light up, and the cogs in my brain start moving in overdrive.
A long time ago I decided that in these moments my job is to give the student at least two answers to their amazing inquiry, including sources. If I don’t have the information at the tip of my tongue, I tell them it’s my homework, and I’ll do the research.
And then comes the miraculous part. I get to support them as they learn about something they are actually interested in. We get to have this in-depth discussion about which answer or teaching they find the most meaningful, which one speaks to their family practice, or which one they would like to know more about.
And answers only beget more questions:
“What if I can’t get home in time to light my hanukiah?”
“What if I can’t put it in a window?”
“What if (gasp!) I don’t like latkes OR sufganiyot?!”
We get to share the “lightbulb” moments when a child suddenly realizes that some of the things they know about Shabbat pertain to Hanukah, and a Pesah text actually seems to allude to Hanukah, and it all fits together!
Even during Hanukah, when it seems as simple as “light the candles. Then, enjoy them,” we have this amazing opportunity to open up our students’ minds to the variety of texts, traditions, and practices of our people.
May the burning fire of our children’s curiosity and their passion for learning be the greatest gift we could use to light the world, during Hanukah and always.