chanukah candles

Jews believe in “live and let live.” Chanukah brings the message of religious freedom, a basic human right.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

Chanukah is on its way, and we will soon begin eight days of eating and celebrating. Lighting candles, playing dreidel, and eating lots and lots of UFO’s (Unidentified Frying Objects). We all know the joyous routine!

Although the mitzvah (Torah commandment) of lighting the Menorah is fulfilled even with a “light-and-run” type of performance, it is praiseworthy to remain by the candles for at least 30 minutes after lighting, doing some of the above and more. We are to bask in the presence of the Chanukah candles and “listen” to the messages and teachings that they proclaim.

There are many beautiful interpretations of what these messages are, and I will share a few of them with you. For starters, the Chanukah candles teach us to always stand up for what’s right. We must never be afraid to defend the truth, to call out on wrong, and to do what we can to fix injustice.

The story of Chanukah is the fight for religious freedom. The Greeks wanted to force the Jews to live the Greek way, worship the Greek way, eat the Greek way, and all the rest. There was no tolerance for other ways of life.

Have you ever heard of any time in history when the Jews forced their religious beliefs on others? Never. We believe in “live and let live,” and when people begin challenging this inherit right of every human being, it may be time to become a Maccabee.

There is a famous Talmudic dispute whether to light one candle on the first night of Chanuka, two on the second night, three on the third night, and so on (the view of Hillel) or to light eight candles on the first night, seven on the second night, six on the third night, etc. (the view of Shammai). Well, as readers know, Hillel won this argument, and Jews the world over light one candle on the first night, two on the second, and so on.

One reason is that it teaches us to always add light into the world. Always increase the light, and never decrease it. Try to do more for others today than you did yesterday. Try to be a bit more observant in your Judaism today than you were yesterday. Try to be a better person today than you were yesterday. That is the message of the Hillel method of lighting the Chanukah candles.

And, of course, when do we light the Chanukah candles? At dark. When light is most needed. The world we live in today is very dark from a spiritual perspective. That’s why the world needs you. Now. Desperately. The world needs your good deeds and your acts of goodness and kindness. It’s very dark. Contribute your light.

Chanukah, with minor exception, is the only miracle with a mitzvah to publicize it. That’s right. The mitzvah of circumcision, for example, is very important, but we don’t want you publicizing that you fulfilled that mitzvah! Chanuka is different. We must look for ways to publicize the miracles of Chanukah to the world. We light our menorah in a manner that brings maximum exposure to passersby. Some families light by the window, facing the street, and some keep the original enactment of lighting outside their homes.

Basically, we are required to show the world that we have fulfilled each night of Chanukah. We must bring the message of religious freedom to the world.

Enjoy your Chanukah celebrations. Look for meaning in the holiday. And most important, try not to gain too much weight!

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