On Shabbat Chanukah, the Shabbat that occurs during Chanukah, two sets of lights are kindled in the Jewish home: the menorah is lit, followed by the Shabbat candles. The requirements for these two mitzvahs provide a study in contrasts:

  • The menorah is kindled by the men and boys of the house (though if a man is not present it may be kindled by a woman).
  • Shabbat candles are lit by women and girls (though, again, if a woman is not present, a man may light them).

  • In fulfillment of the commandment to publicize the miracle of Chanukah, the menorah is placed in a doorway or window so that it is visible from the outside. Many communities stage public menorah lightings in parks, city squares and shopping malls.
  • Shabbat candles are lit in the inner sanctum of the home, often on the table where the meal will be served.

  • The blessing over the menorah is sung out loud, followed by boisterous songs and celebration.
  • The blessing over Shabbat candles is usually said in a quiet voice, and is followed by several moments of silent prayer, as the woman of the house requests blessings for her family.

Behind these requirements lies a deep kabbalistic significance that reflects the spiritual energies of the participants. Feminine spiritual energy is focused internally, while masculine energy tends to be external.

Traditionally, the man was the hunter-gatherer, the farmer, the breadwinner, leaving home in order to provide for his family. The woman was the homemaker, transforming the raw materials the man provided into food and clothing. These roles are no longer as rigid as they once were, andThe woman enhances the internal peace and spirituality of the home indeed, every man and woman possesses a mixture of masculine and feminine energies. Changing social norms have allowed women to express themselves more fully in both the public and private sphere.

Perhaps the best illustration is the creation of a new life. The woman’s egg is internal, the man’s seed external. The growth of the fetus is a wondrous process that the woman contains completely within herself.

In the Jewish home, the woman enhances the internal peace and spirituality of the home by lighting the Shabbat candles. By lighting the Chanukah menorah, the man publicizes the spirituality of Chanukah as a message to be spread externally. These two mitzvahs harness the spiritual energies of men and women in a divinely determined way to best effect.

Two sets of candles, two very different mitzvahs. Yet the end result is the same: a match is held to a wick, a flame is kindled, and darkness recedes. The Torah recognizes that men and women bring different energies to the task of perfecting the world. Working together, harnessing the unique qualities G‑d gave them, they can create enough light to banish darkness forever.