Understanding the reasons behind several of the laws of Chanukah provides insight into true Jewish values.
There is so much we can learn about life, priorities and philosophy just by pondering the laws and customs of Chanuka. For example, if one has only the exact number of candles needed for Chanuka (that’s a total of 44 candles!) and a friend has no candles for Chanuka, he or she should share the candles with the friend. This is because although it is customary to light two candles on the second night of Chanuka, three on the third and so on, it isn’t necessary; one is only required to light one candle on each night of Chanuka. This indicates that it is better to do mitzvot (Torah commandments) in a minimal manner if it means being able to help others fulfill the mitzva as well.
In a similar vein, there is much discussion about what to do in the event that one has only enough candles to be used for either the Chanuka candles OR the Shabbat candles, as Chanuka lasts for eight days. Which takes priority? The Talmud rules that the Shabbat candles take priority because their purpose is to “bring peace to the home.” Although publicizing mitzvot and miracles to the world is important, shalom bayit (domestic harmony) takes priority! As they say, charity begins at home.
Indeed, lighting the Chanuka menorah is one of the few mitzvot that require one to publicize the mitzvah. In fact, at previous times in history, the Chanuka menorah would be lit outdoors so that all passersby would see the candles. This teaches us that we should never be embarrassed to be Jewish. To the contrary – we must always be proud!
Although the Chanuka candles should ideally be lit at about sunset, most authorities rule that the lighting may be delayed in order to allow for one’s spouse to be present. In Israel, sunset is at about 4:30 p.m. during the Chanuka season, and many people may not get home from work until well after 7 or 8 p.m. Nevertheless, in order to preserve marital harmony, one is permitted to forgo the ideal lighting time.
There was once an intense debate as to whether one should light one candle on the first night of Chanuka, two on the second night, three on the third night, and so on, or whether it should be done in the opposite way – eight on the first night, seven on the second night, and so on. Well, as you know, it was the former school of thought that won this debate, and indeed, we increase the number of candles each night . This is in order to teach us that we should always increase the number of mitzvot and good deeds that we perform and never decrease them.
There are many more such interpretations. Check out the other articles on Chanukah on the United with Israel website and find out what we can learn about true Jewish values!
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
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