Through The Eyes of a Woman
Chanukah: Light, not Might
We don't celebrate Chanukah with a seudah, because the whole story of
Chanukah is focusing on a totally spiritual concept. The war with Haman was a physical
war. Haman wanted to eradicate the Jews. Because it was a war relating to physical
things, the Purim celebration is physical too, just like the war was physical. But
since Chanukah is a spiritual celebration, it is celebrated with light, with the
kindling of candles, rather than with food. Even though there was a war at Chanukah
as well, we don't celebrate the victory as such, because the war was strictly secondary
to the main miracle of Chanukah -- finding pure, uncontaminated oil and
kindling the Menorah. Even though we mention the victory in the Al HaNissim
addition in the Amidah and in bentching (Grace after Meals), nevertheless,
this is only an honorable mention. It is not the main feature of Chanukah. Perhaps
this is proved by the fact that if you forget to recite Al HaNissim, you
do not have to repeat the entire Amidah.
Let us try and understand something of the nature of light. As everyone knows,
our Sages divide physical matter into four elements -- Earth, Water, Air
and Fire. Fire is different from the other three in two ways: The other three elements
are all physical. They have dimensions, and they follow certain laws of physics.
They are limited in time and space. Fire is unusual in that if you have a little
flame, one candle that has a small flame, with that candle you can kindle an infinite
number of candles. A million, billion, ten billion. As long as you have time and
candles, you can forever keep kindling candles from that one. And the original candle
does not lose anything thereby. That seems to defy logic. From where does all that
fire come? There's a limited amount of water, or earth, or air. But fire seems to
have an infinite quality. Of the four elements, then, fire is the most spiritual,
for in a sense it defies natural laws.
Another difference between fire and the other elements is that fire always seeks
to go up. You can take a candle and hold it upside down and the flame will always
rise up. Our Sages explain that this is because it is seeking its source above.
It is because of these unique qualities that we celebrate Chanukah specifically
with fire, because fire is as spiritual as a physical thing can get. It's as close
as one can get to merging the spiritual and the physical.
There are three types of candles we light as a mitzvah --
Shabbos and Yom-Tov candles, the candles of the Menorah in the
Beis HaMikdash, and the third, Chanukah candles. However, there are several
main differences between them: Shabbos and Yom-Tov candles, and the
candles of the Beis HaMikdash, are lit indoors, whereas the Chanukah candles
are (ideally) lit outside (even though this is not the custom today for other reasons).
Another difference is that Shabbos and Yom-Tov candles and the candles
of the Beis HaMikdash are lit before it gets dark, before sunset, while it's
still light outside. Chanukah candles are lit after sunset, when it begins to get
A third difference is that we always light the same number of Shabbos
or Yom-Tov candles; likewise, the candles in the Beis HaMikdash. Although
we do add another Shabbos candle when another child is born, nevertheless,
this is only a custom. The main mitzvah is to light two candles on Shabbos
and seven in the Beis HaMikdash, whereas on Chanukah we light an additional
candle every day. On the first day of Chanukah one candle is the fulfillment of
the mitzvah in the best way possible, mehadrin min hamehadrin. But
in order to do the mitzvah in the best way on the second day, you have to
light two candles, adding one from day to day.
The first difference, that Chanukah candles are lit outside, teaches us that
we should not keep the light of Yiddishkeit to ourselves. There are people
out there who also need to "see the light." We must exert effort and energy in illuminating
our surroundings. There are people who live "enclave Judaism," where people are
satisfied as long as they and their children are frum. What's going on the neighborhood
ten minutes away from them doesn't concern them at all. This is not what the Chanukah
candles teach us. The Rebbe says that if there are people out there who don't know
about Yiddishkeit, then there is something lacking in me too, for together
we all comprise a single entity. As long as one part of our people are not what
they should be, everyone is lacking. Did you ever have an infected toe? What do
you care, as long as most of your body is healthy, just ignore the toe that has
the infection. But if your toe hurts you can't even walk. It hurts your body, you
can't even think right. Every part of the body is interconnected. In the same way,
the entire Jewish people is connected.
What about the second difference, that we wait until it begins to get dark before
we light the Chanukah candles? This teaches us that a Jew should not let the darkness
intimidate him. In other words, a Jew shouldn't say, "It's dark outside, what can
I do? It's bad out there, but I'm just one little me. Can I really make a difference
to the darkness out there?" The mitzvah of Chanukah tells us not to feel
helpless. You can do something to illuminate the darkness. If HaShem puts
you into a situation that is dark, and here we're referring to spiritual darkness
as well, the Jew shouldn't say, "There's no way I can do anything." You can. You
have Torah and the Torah says a little light dispels a lot of darkness. So we have
our tool that no matter how dark it is out there, we can still be a source of light
and illumination which will drive away the darkness.
The final difference between Chanukah candles and the other types of candles
is that a Jew must always add and increase. Yiddishkeit is not like a plateau.
If you are now on a certain level, it's only enough for today. But if HaShem
gave you another day, and another year of life, you can't remain on that level.
You have to always grow -- this is called maalin bakodesh, increasing
May we soon merit to see the light of the Beis HaMikdash and dance together
in Jerusalem, as we celebrate the ultimate spiritual victory with the advent of