Avraham Sosa, Middle School Science Teacher
The miracle of Hanukkah was that there was only one small jar of pure oil, enough to light the menorah in the Temple for one day. But it lasted eight days! What is so miraculous about the story? Why was it a big deal for the Jewish people? The rabbis explained the nature of the miracle. An opinion suggests that the oil was divided into eighths, each of which burned for an entire day. The oil burned more slowly, suggesting reduced consumption. The Talmud says:
.אָמַר רַב זוּטְרָא: הַאי מַאן דִּמְכַסֵּי שְׁרָגָא דְּמִשְׁחָא וּמְגַלֵּי נַפְטָא קָעָבַר מִשּׁוּם ״בַּל תַּשְׁחִית״
Rav Zutra said: He who covers an oil lamp or who uncovers a kerosene lamp for no purpose violates the prohibition: Do not destroy (Bal tashchit) since by doing so the fuel burns more quickly. Talmud Bavli Shabbat 67b:14.
The Jewish value of Bal tashchit (do not destroy), refers to a senseless waste of resources. In the pre-modern world of our sages, extraordinary efforts — such as hauling water or pressing olives for oil — were required to meet basic human needs. Consequently, wasting resources and energy was frowned upon and likely rare. We depended on animal and human power to run the world.
Nowadays, however, with nearly unlimited and easy access to resources, we can leave lamps on all day, overuse water, and throw away food without even thinking about the environmental impact of our actions. We must reduce the rapacious speed that we consume the earth’s resources.
In the Science lab, 7th graders learned how electricity works, from an atom to an electrical circuit, which gave them scientific and engineering insight into why generating energy takes so much effort. With these lessons, our students gained the skills to build electric circuits with resistors, LEDs, potentiometers and joysticks, and from there, were able to program with Arduino boards and choose what type of robotic menorah they wanted to build. We are so proud of the amazing designs that our students have built, including robotic arms, remote-controlled LEDs and 3d printed menorahs.
As part of their project, 7th graders recorded and edited videos to their parents asking them to change their energy habits and become more energy efficient. One of the central ideas of Hanukkah is publicizing the miracle, it constitutes one of the core observances of Hanukkah—and their videos publicize the importance of energy conservation as part of their initiative to fight climate change.
These changes suggested by 7th graders require a partnership of individuals, schools, families, communities and governments acting together. As we contemplate the ‘great miracle that happened there during Hanukkah let us also remember the great opportunity and obligation that is happening now in the world.
At Bernard Zell we are committed to projects like these that help students learn and experience the connection between our Jewish traditions and values, art, math, science and engineering they learn at school and share with their families and communities.
JSTEAM Atomic Menorah Project:
Jewish Value: Bal Tashchit (Do not destroy)
Science - Electrons, Electricity and Electronics
Technology - Arduino consists of both a physical programmable circuit board with a Microcontroller and Arduino IDE (a simplified version of C++)
Engineering - Design using:
Basic devices: Potentiometer, LEDs, push buttons, servo motors.
Advanced devices: One 7-segment display, remote control, Photoresistors, LCD display