Once upon a time, this is what our world looked like: a place of light,
beyond which lay blackness and night.
We weren't selfish. We opened up windows in the walls of our palace of light and
shined beams of daylight into the night. Of course, the
night didn't change -- it just retreated a little. But our light was there
for all to see. Creatures of the night gazed at our lighted windows.
Then a terrible thing happened. We were banished from our palace of light and
cast into the night.
For a while, we lived off the residue of light we'd smuggled out inside
our souls. But our batteries were running low. And the darkness kept on getting
It was then that we made a startling discovery. Living in the darkness, we
got to know it a little better. We realized that darkness isn't really darkness
-- it's hidden light! Instead of chasing it away with our beams of light, we
could un-hide it. All we had to do was work the darkness, massage it the
right way -- and darkness, too, will shine...
The lights we kindle on the eight evenings of the festival
of Chanukah are the offspring of the lights kindled in the menorah in the Holy
Temple. Indeed, the Chanukah lights were instituted by our sages to commemorate
the great miracle that occurred in the Holy Temple's menorah when a single cruse of pure
oil -- enough to keep the menorah's lights shining for one day -- burned for
eight days, until new, pure oil could be obtained.
There are, however, several marked differences between the Chanukah menorah
and the menorah in the Holy Temple:
a) The Temple menorah was lit during the day (no later than 1-1/4 hours before
sunset) and burned through the night. The Chanukah lights are kindled at night.
(Immediately after sunset according to the custom of some communities, or after
three stars come out, according to the custom of others.)
b) The original menorah stood well indoors, in the inner sanctum of the Holy
Temple (called the heichal). The Chanukah menorah is placed "at the perimeter of
the home, on the outer doorway of one's home or, if one lives on the second
floor... in a window overlooking the street."
c) Seven flames burned in the Temple menorah. The Chanukah menorah holds eight
lamps, all of which are kindled on the eighth and culminating night of the
d) The same number of lights (7) were kindled every day in the Temple's
menorah. On Chanukah, we increase the number of lights each day -- one light on
the first evening of Chanukah, two lights on the second evening, and so on until
the eighth evening, when we kindle eight lights.
Why these dissimilarities? In Torah law, there is a rule-of-thumb that "All
rabbinical institutions are modeled after their biblical prototypes." So why, in
instituting the practice of kindling the Chanukah lights, did our sages so
differentiate between them and the lights they come to commemorate?
All these differences reflect the basic difference between the Temple and
the Chanukah menorahs: the difference between shining light into the darkness,
or transforming darkness into light.
When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, there was light in the world. The
Temple was G‑d's home, in which He openly dwelled, manifesting His presence
through daily miracles. A person coming to the Temple experienced the goodness and
perfection of G‑d as a tangible reality. True, this light was confined to a
specific, finite space in the physical world. But from there it radiated outward
to the entire world. The Torah describes the windows of the Holy Temple as "narrow on
the inside and wide on the outside" (which is the exact opposite of the way
windows were built in those times when people relied on
daylight as the primary source of lighting indoors). Our sages explain: "From the Temple
light went out to the rest of the world."
The menorah in the Temple represented this light. It was a constant, unchanging
light. It was kindled in the light of day, yet its rays reached deep into the
night. It was kindled in an inner sanctum brimming with divine light, and
radiated its glow to the mundane world without. There were seven lamps,
representing the seven days of creation and the seven divine attributes (sefirot)
that spawned them -- the totality of the Divine presence within creation.
The Chanukah menorah represents a time and situation in which this model is
no longer functional. A time when darkness has invaded the divine lighthouse,
extinguishing the menorah and defiling its oil. A time when we can no longer
draw from the day to illuminate the night.
At such times, we must turn to the night itself as a source of light. We must
search for the hidden "single cruse of pure oil", for the undefiled and
indefilable essence of creation. We must delve below the surface reality of
darkness to unearth its true essence as hidden light.
Therein lies the significance of Chanukah, when the menorah moves from within
the Holy Temple out into the street, from the daytime to the evening,
from the steady flame of tranquil holiness to the constantly increasing flame of struggle and creativity,
from the seven spheres of "normal" light to the eighth dimension of
transcendent, hidden light. Chanukah transforms the menorah from a tool that disseminates the light
of day into a tool that extracts the luminous essence of darkness itself.
In simple terms: when confronted with darkness, we look for a beam of light
to shine it away -- a great teacher, a holy mentor, perhaps a residue of light
soaked up by our own soul in a moment of inspiration. But sometimes there is no
light -- the teacher has locked his door, the mentor has disappeared, and one's own
soul has turned dark and cold. When no solution for the problem is in sight,
this can only mean one thing: the problem itself is the solution. A far greater
light awaits, a hidden light disguised as darkness.