There are several rules to follow when lighting the Chanukah candles, which also teaches an important lesson in life.
There are lots and lots of details in Judaism. This is especially true with regards to performing mitzvot (Torah commandments): One must eat the required amount of matzah on Passover; work must cease on Friday at sundown and may only be resumed on Saturday after nightfall; the tallit, Sukkah, and tefillin have minimum and maximum sizes, and so much more. Lots of details. If the details aren’t complied with, no mitzvah has been performed.
There are also many rules on how the Chanukah menorah is to be lit; for example, the requirement to light the menorah at the door or window, to light an additional candle each night and to ensure that there is enough wax or oil so that the candles will burn for at least 30 minutes after dark.
However, the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah menorah is very unique. As mentioned, with almost all other mitzvot, if one did not comply with all the rules and details, the mitzvah has not been performed. For example, one is required to eat about 30 grams of matzah at the Passover Seder. One who ate 30 or 31 grams has fulfilled the mitzvah; one who ate 28 grams has accomplished nothing at all. Good intentions and extenuating circumstances, as noble at they may be, do not redeem the mitzvah if it is not fulfilled in its entirety. It might sound a bit unfair, but look at it this way: regardless of how important the email is or of one’s good intentions to send it out in time, if even one letter is off in the email address, it goes nowhere.
Regarding Chanukah, however, although the candles must burn for at least 30 minutes after dark, it is possible that one has fulfilled the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles even if the candles are extinguished only a minute after they were lit. For example, if one lit a candle with enough wax or oil to last the required amount of time, but a gust of wind or other unforeseen event extinguished the candles, the mitzvah was nonetheless fulfilled – as well as if the candle had actually burned the entire time. There is not even a need to re-light the candles. Here it’s the effort and intention that count.
So why is the mitzvah of Chanukah candles fulfilled even if they did not burn for the required amount of time?
The answer: It is a lesson in Divine providence. Everything that happens in this world is due to the wishes of the conductor. Not only did God create the world, but He continues to manage it. Our successes and failures are often dependent on the will of God. Unfortunately, we often forget that we do not control everything that happens in our lives and in our world; it is all God’s will.
This is the lesson of the Chanukah candles. One fulfills the mitzvah of lighting as long as one has made all the required effort. This teaches us a vital lesson: We have to do our best in life, we have to give everything our best shot, we have to put in the effort. But ultimately, God decides whether to answer our prayers with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And even if the answer is ‘no’ and we do not succeed, it does not mean that we have failed. We did our job. God did His.
This is the celebration of Chanukah. When the Maccabees won the war against the Greeks and rededicated the Holy Temple, they only found one container of kosher oil that was not defiled by the Greeks. However, the oil was sufficient for only one day. Although, under the circumstances, the letter of the law would have allowed for defiled oil to be used to light the Menorah, the Maccabees felt that it would be improper to do so. They wanted the rededication of the Temple to start out on the right foot, in purity. So they lit the Menorah with their one-day supply of oil, and a miracle occurred: The oil lasted eight days – exactly the amount of time needed to get more kosher oil. The Maccabees made the effort, they made what they thought was the best possible choice. God granted them their success.
Our eight days of Chanukah commemorate and celebrate two facts: Man giving everything in life his best shot and knowing that the outcome is dependent on the One Above.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
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