June 19, 2024
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Striking the Spark: Chanukah and the Holiday of the Heart

“Spread the light” and “light up the darkness” are the messages we hear so much this time of year when it comes to Chanukah. From commercials to synagogue programs, sharing the light is the common theme.

Understandably so, since the primary concept of Chanukah is the miracle—the miracle of the war and the miracle of the oil. The central mitzvah of this holiday is pirsumei nisa, to share and publicize the miracle. We fulfill this precept by placing our menorah by our window and showing the world our pride. We are told in the Talmud that we must keep the menorah lit for at least 30 minutes until all of the foot traffic leaves our neighborhoods, making sure that every passerby takes in the power of the lights.

But there is another halacha that seems to go against this principle. We are told in the Talmud that if, after lighting our candles, the light mistakenly burns out or blows out, we don’t have to reignite the flames. Even if it is 10 seconds after the lighting, we do not have to relight them. If we are given the mission to publicize the miracle, it would seem if our candles go out, we should relight them to fulfill the mitzvah. So what is this little known halacha coming to teach us?

Rabbi David Hofstetter in his Doresh David asks this very question, and in doing so broadens the message of Chanukah. He first echoes the statement of the halacha. He states that the mitzvah of Chanukah is actually not the actual light, but the hadlaka, the putting the fire to the wicks, that is the essence of the mitzvah of Chanukah. The goal of Chanukah is l’orer et libo, to awaken the heart, for us to reflect on who we are and to let our individual hearts speak to what we want our lives to be about.

Chanukah is also about reminding us, as individuals, of what it means to sacrifice and fulfill the concept of mesirat nefesh, giving of our souls to something bigger. It was the self-sacrifice of the Chashmonaim, the Maccabees, who were able to realize the importance of the moment, take initiative and rise up. When they could have blended into the crowd, they were the individuals who stepped up and recognized the importance of the moment. They realized that it was a time to act for God, an et la’asot laShem. It was a time to fight despite being outnumbered and outmanned by the enemy. It was also a time to step up to light the menorah with pure oil, which, contrary to what we learned as children, was not required—as impure oil would have sufficed. We echo this concept of going beyond the minimum when we each light many candles each night, when the strict minimum is only one candle per household, ish ner ubeito.

Chanukah, according to the Doresh David, is actually about how we as individuals can and should do our best to identify times of need and go beyond the minimum. It is about standing up against what the world tells us to be, and sometimes being counter cultural.

In this scary world, where it may be easier to hide our principles and our Judaism, Chanukah tells each one of us, no. It tells each of us to be a proud Jew and radiate Jewish pride. In a time where cynicism often reigns and discourse and civility are in decline, Chanukah tells us to be strong citizens and stand up for timeless values of kindness, understanding and dialogue.

Yes, Chanukah is about the big parties, the communal celebration and the spreading of the light, but it is equally, if not more, about how we strike the match and how each of us must challenge ourselves, to look into our hearts and ignite the spark that can awaken the fire in our hearts to fulfill our divine potential.


Rabbi Aaron Frank is head of school at Kinneret Day School.

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