By Chaplain Rabbi (CPT) David Becker, USARCENT
Jewish Theater Chaplain
On a recent trip in the skies over Iraq and Kuwait, I had the opportunity to become well acquainted with the flight crew of the C-130 I was traveling on. As a chaplain I find it natural to connect to service members, so upon landing at a waypoint where we were stuck for several hours, I took the opportunity to get to know the crew. For his part, the Captain parked the C-130 on the tarmac, lowered the ramp, and there we laid (all 10 of us) sunbathing beneath the Iraqi sun.
A C-130 is basically the military’s bus and workhorse of the sky. It has a long track record of safety and mission success. Six crewmembers are required to fly and navigate a C-130. The flight deck crew consists of the Captain, First Officer, Crew Chief, and the Navigator. In the back of the aircraft there are two Loadmasters who manage cargo, weight distribution, safety systems, and passengers. I inserted myself on a bench at the back of the flight deck and had a clear view ahead and to the sides of the plane. The experience did not disappoint. Once the plane took off, I could walk the deck. From the cockpit, when the plane banks and turns, the line where the ground meets the sky becomes alarmingly horizontal. Skirting around clouds and weather systems with the sun’s rays peeking through is just about one of the most beautiful natural scenes I have ever seen, if not bumpy. Combat diving, a reality in a combat zone, takes you on a spinning and plunging trajectory towards the ground in an accelerated way! Leveling out at a scant few hundred feet and landing on a short runway, one wonders what just happened!
As I watched these outstanding professionals operate this aircraft with ease and a comradery that was both serious and yet warm, spirituality set in and a concert of unity played out before my eyes.
Let me explain what I was feeling. The most beautiful music springs forth from a unified effort. On the C-130 the Captain is the head of this aircraft. He relies on all other departments to feed him information so he can command, much like a conductor who directs music in an orchestra. The First Officer functions as a secondary back-up for the Captain. He also monitors essential flight systems, radar, communications, and countermeasures. In a real way, this officer is the concertmaster responsible for musical quality at the concert. There is a navigator, who inputs direction which he feeds into a computer allowing the Captain to fly along a highway in the sky. The navigator is much like an orchestrator, who transposes the composer’s music into a coherent flow for play. Next is the crew chief. As a senior enlisted airman, his role is to troubleshoot, inspect, calibrate, mix fuel, perform engine run-ups, and adhere to checklists. The crew chief is the ultimate stage manager concerned with the overall health of the orchestra. Every properly run orchestra requires a symphony manager. These people are charged with making sure the math makes sense, and the business of the orchestra is healthy. In a C-130 the symphony master and his assistant are called Loadmasters. The entire Raison d’être of the flight is to deliver cargo and personnel to an intended destination. Loadmasters ensure the cargo and people are safe and secure. Lastly, there is the plane, the seventh entity in this equation, so obviously akin to the orchestral sections. The plane is roaring to fly, it just needs the other six entities to give it direction.
Observing from the flight deck, I was indeed witnessing something remarkable in its seamless purpose. The components were indeed a concert of unity!
This evolved into the subsequent thought. As Chanukah is upon us, my thoughts turned to the Holy Menorah! It occurred to me that I was riding on a Menorah! Not necessarily the Chanukiyot that we will light in our homes, but the Menorah created mikshah achas, formed (or beaten) of one piece. The one Moses our Beloved Teacher formed out of one massive chunk of gold. This original Menorah stood in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, and the first great Temple as a testament of G-d’s, balance, unity, beneficent kindness, and ever giving nature. We were meant, as we are today on Chanukah, to light that Menorah and bringing G-d’s perfection of unified light into the world. Six perfect yet separated golden lamps on each side of a center stalk, mirroring each other in sublime beauty and decoration! The center stalk rising above the rest. Shining forth from a position just outside the Kodesh Ha’kadoshim (Holy of Holies) the Menorah was meant to remind us of the seven days of creation. Six days of creation, one day of perfect rest… seven. Six crew members and one plane… seven. Balance!
Inside that cockpit, I got to wondering, why do we celebrate Chanukah? We are often told that the great miracle of Chanukah is that when the Maccabees re-entered the Temple after a prolonged war with the Seleucid Greeks, they could not locate a supply of oil to rekindle the Menorah, save one jug. Miraculously, the jug lasted eight days until additional supplies could be restocked. Yes, this is a miracle, but is it really worthy of celebrating for time immemorial? If such a miracle was so magnanimous, then perhaps we should celebrate in perpetuity the Well of Miriam or the falling of the walls of Jericho. Clearly, we do not. We are also told that the more important miracle of Chanukah is the outstanding and unlikely military victory of Matisyahu and his sons who with the strength of character, wisdom, courage, military tactics, and a lot of divine assistance, overcame an empire in just three years. Both are certainly viable explanations for our celebration.
For your consideration, I would like to submit to you a deeper perspective. Chanukah is the ultimate holiday of unity and its essence is a restoration of balance. The Menorah, a perpetual holy instrument of divine unity, was rekindled and lasted those eight days specifically because balance was restored to the Jewish people. Finally, after many years of war, internal division, ethnic hatred, and religious intolerance Judaism was restored and freed from the Hellenistic grasp. The cry of Judah the Maccabee, Me La’Hashem Ay’li (who is for G-d rally to me), was a call for re-unity, and when he and the Jewish people united and overcame the enemy, when the spirituality and safety of our people was restored, the Menorah became that symbol of G-d’s light once again. Balance was restored. This is why we celebrate Chanukah – because of this restoration of balance that resulted in a celebration of the concert of G-d’s unity.
I write these words to you from far away and with no small degree of longing for my family and prayers for what I am sure will be better times. While we acknowledge that Chanukah 2020 comes on the heels of a year that has been just ghastly, let us not forget why we light this Menorah. As Chanukah did for our Jewish ancestors, may this Chanukah bring us a restoration of balance. May we bring G-d’s light into the world, dispelling darkness. And may we all merit to see the ultimate act of unification, the coming of Mashiach and peace for all.
Now that is a concert worth celebrating!
Volume 74. Number 4. 2020