On Changing Light Bulbs

The human soul is the candle of G-d.

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Rabbi Berel Wein,

Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein

My mechanical ineptitude is legendary. I have never been any sort of handyman around the house and from time immemorial, dealing with burned out light bulbs has presented a dreaded challenge to me. If this was true, and it was, regarding those good old-fashioned screw-in light bulbs, the arrival of halogen lighting fixtures and bulbs has vastly compounded the problem. Those spindly little legs of the halogen bulbs never seem to fit correctly into the microscopically small sockets where they are intended to go and the dreaded warning not to touch the halogen bulb – God forbid – with one’s bare fingers has seriously impeded any hope of success in my being able to replace any burned out bulb with ease and dispatch on my own.


Since I am, thank God, at a stage of life where I am simply spending my grandchildren’s money, I now wait until a significant number of light bulbs have burned out throughout our home and then I call my beloved and trusted electrician/handyman to change all of them. There was a time when I was actually embarrassed to have to admit doing this and revealing my acute clumsiness but today I am brazenly proud of my behavior and needless to say my electrician/handyman is also quite delighted with this arrangement.


So every few months when the house turns appropriately dark enough the electrician/handyman arrives; I purchase the necessary types of bulbs; and within a short period of time our home is again bathed in the artificial light of our modern technologically advanced world.


A few days ago one of the bulbs in a halogen bedside lamp in our home burned out. In a fit of foolish courage and bravado I was determined this time to change this bulb myself. It suddenly became a test of my manhood and I was determined to accomplish it. I walked the five long blocks to the hardware store to buy the bulb. The only thing was that the bulb now was available in a myriad number of watts, volts, colors and mood tones. And the old burned out bulb that I brought along to show the storekeeper somehow was mysteriously illegible as to what size, color, etc. it had originally been. So the storekeeper sold to me whatever bulb he deemed proper in his experienced judgment – the most expensive one that he had in stock - and I went home hoping for the best.


I do not know exactly what prayer the rabbis had instituted to be recited before attempting to insert a very small halogen bulb into an even smaller lamp socket, so I composed my own prayer on the spot. And lo and behold after only three previous futile attempts I suddenly and unexpectedly succeeded in inserting the bulb into its proper socket and I then tested the lamp and it actually lit and worked nicely. I was overjoyed at my very small triumph. My day was made!


It is amazing how the small things in life really do matter to humans. The prophet Yonah who is instrumental in saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the great city of ancient Ninveh rejoices not in that monumental accomplishment and in the revelation to him of God’s patience and mercy towards humans but rather in the appearance of a gourd that shades him from the sun. And when that gourd dries out and disappears, Yonah is frustrated and angry, rebellious and unappreciative of the miraculous salvation of Ninveh that he helped bring about.


The Lord, so to speak, is forced to remind him of the difference between major and the minor, the central issues of life and the peripheral and temporary pleasures and inconveniences. There was a great hockey player who when reviewing his star-studded career stated: “I was not the strongest or the fastest skater on the ice. My shot was not always the most powerful or even the most accurate. My success was due to the fact that I always knew where the puck was!”


Burned out light bulbs and somehow replacing them is part of our daily lives. But they are not what our lives are about. Service to God and other humans, Torah knowledge and good character traits, those remain the central core of Jewish existence. And there is no electrician/handyman that can be relied upon to change those bulbs for us if they burn out. We are the only ones that can successfully reignite the lamp of our own souls. And the only way to do this is to keep our eye on the puck and not fall prey to the distractions that visit all of us regularly.