This Chanukah, go “screen free” for 30.
Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, known as the The Kedushas Levi, once walked into his beit midrash and saw a few of his students discussing something with a sense of yearning and jealousy. As he approached the group, they quickly quieted down, acting as if they were engrossed in their learning. The Kedushas Levi inquired what they had been discussing so passionately. Although the students did not want to reveal the topic of their conversation at first, they finally admitted that they were talking about an exceptionally wealthy individual and marveling with envy at all the pleasure and enjoyment he must experience. Rav Levi Yitzchak responded by asking if this wealthy individual lights Chanukah candles? The students responded that of course he does not. At which point Rav Levi Yitzchak proclaimed, “Then he does not know what it is like to experience true pleasure in this world.”
Throughout the generations, lighting Chanukah candles has been one of the most profound and precious experiences a Jew can have throughout the entire year. Perhaps the most beautiful part of this mitzvah is how families come together to experience the shine of the candles—children watching and learning as their parents perform the mitzvah, and then parents observing with pride as their children do the same. It is a time of unlimited capacity for holiness and connection.
In our times, however, it has become more and more challenging to see the full potential of this opportunity. Rings and buzzes, updates and emails divert our attention from the glow of the candles and pull us away from each other. The light of our screens is blocking our vision from internalizing the radiance of the menorah.
Over the last several years, TAG Chicago and Project Focus have attempted to recapture these precious moments by encouraging families to go “screen free” for at least the first 30 minutes after lighting the menorah. Having already received the full endorsement and backing of the Agudah, the OU, the RCA and Torah Umesorah, this initiative has spread around the country to overwhelmingly positive feedback. This year, we are proud to partner with the principals of the Bergen County elementary schools and their Screening Our Future Campaign to disseminate this idea even further.
By putting away our devices, we are enabling ourselves to soak in the light of the menorah and see the preciousness of that which we have right in front of us. The time the candles are burning is one of the most auspicious moments throughout the entire year. With God’s help, we should have the strength and insight to capitalize on this awesome potential and allow the fire of candles to radiate throughout our homes.
Rabbi Ephraim Goldman is the director of community education for Project Focus. He is also a mashgiach and ninth-grade rebbe at Fasman Yeshiva High School. Project Focus is a campaign started last year in Chicago to affect a culture change in our relationship with technology and inspire each individual to use their technology responsibly and on their own terms. For more information: [email protected].