This past month we celebrated the holiday of Chanukah. Jews all around the world celebrated the Festival of Lights and lit the menorah for 8 days, commemorating the oil that miraculously burned for 8 days in the time of the Second Temple. In total (including the shamash), we lit 44 candles, starting with 2 the first night and ending with 9 on the last. We sat around and watched the candles burn, reflecting on the miraculous victory of the Maccabees and appreciating how fortunate we are to live in this unique time and place. Some people even like to sit and learn Torah by the candlelight, which is an appropriate means of celebrating the survival of our tradition in spite of the threat posed by hellenism in the days of old.
Yet, as a third year student at YU, I have noticed one additional theme that is highlighted with the menorah lighting. While there is undeniably something special about having the men who live in the dorms say the brachot (blessings) and sing songs together while lighting the menorah, the practice has been plagued by an inexcusable phenomenon. On the last night of Chanukah, there was no room for me to set up my menorah and light my own candles because there was so much trash on the table. A place set aside for performing a beautiful mitzvah (commandment) was left a filthy and disgusting mess, covered with empty oil holders, candles, and oil spills. Making matters worse, one of the security staff members on duty came up to me and asked me why we leave the place such a mess; I had no good answer for him. Even worse than the obvious embarrassment was the knowledge that we had accomplished the complete opposite of what the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles is supposed to accomplish: pirsumei nisa, publicizing the miracle, and the beauty of our tradition, for all the world to see. Bothered, I approached someone who was lighting his menorah and asked him what he thought on the matter. He responded that some hold of the opinion that leftover oil is considered to be kadosh (holy) and should not be thrown away. A strange answer, when you consider that any oil left on the table will eventually be thrown out regardless.
Something that is used for a holy action should not be neglected. The problem should be taken care of by people either opting to keep their menorah and extra oil or by taking 30 seconds to throw them away. The cleaning staff at YU doesn’t need to take care of the trash left behind. Students should learn to be responsible for their own messes, and not force someone else deal with them.
The broader issue here extends beyond chanukah candles, and into the more mundane aspects of life as well. Whether in the cafeteria or Nagel lounge, students regularly eat meals and don’t bother to clean up their trash, even though there are trash receptacles located in the most convenient spaces in all these locations. It takes an extra 30 seconds to clean up after yourself and be decent for the people who will sit at the table after you, and for the cleaning crew who does not want to go around and do extra work.
Chanukah may be about Pirsumei Nisa, or publicizing the miracle, but here in YU it is characterized by Pirsumei Busha, publicizing the embarrassing nature to which some of our students treat their surroundings. As Jews committed to a rich tradition, we are supposed to be a light unto nations, to think deeply about our actions, and commit ourselves to acting in ways that will better the world. We fail at that mission when we act like slobs.