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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 dark.

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 in holiness.

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 Mashiach Tzidkeinu!

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