By the Grace of G‑d

Erev Shabbos1 Kodesh and
Erev Chanukah,2 5743
Brooklyn, N.Y.

To the Sons and Daughters of
Our People Israel, Everywhere,
G‑d Bless you all!

Greeting and Blessing:

As we are about to begin the celebration of Chanukah by—among other things—kindling the Chanukah Lights each night of Chanukah, this is a time of reflection on the meaningful lessons3 of the Festival of Lights.4 To quote my father-in-law5 of saintly memory: “We should listen attentively to what the Chanukah Lights are telling us.”

It would be fitting, therefore, to take a few minutes to reflect on some aspects of the Mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah Lights.

To perform this Mitzvah one needs, of course, a candle6 or an oil lamp. The candle, or oil and wick,7 are common material things; yet, when kindled in fulfillment of the Divine precept, in remembrance of the miraculous events “in those days at this time,” after reciting the appropriate benedictions—“these lights (become) sacred, and we are not permitted to make use of them, but only to look at them, in order to offer thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, for Your wonders and for Your salvations.”8

The Mitzvah of the Chanukah Lights symbolizes—in a tangible and visible way9—all the Mitzvot of the Torah, all of which are defined in terms of light: Ner Mitzvah v’Torah Or (“A Mitzvah is a candle, and the Torah is Light”10Prov. 6:23). In the case of all Mitzvot, some material object and/or physical and mental activity is involved (as wool in Tzitzis, leather in Tefillin, etc.). Yet, when that material thing is dedicated to a sacred purpose, in fulfillment of G‑d’s command, it becomes sacred, and the performance of the Mitzvah creates a light which, though invisible to the physical eye, irradiates the person performing the Mitzvah as well as the surrounding material world, making them more spiritual, and enabling them to transcend the confines of the physical world.

The Mitzvah of Ner Chanukah has the unique feature of being performed in a steadily increasing manner:11 One candle is lit the first night; two the second,12 and so on. This reminds us forcefully—again in a visible and concrete way—that all things connected with Torah and Mitzvot have to be on the increase. No matter how satisfactory the level of one’s Torah—and Mitzvot—experience may be on any given day, it is not adequate for the next day; and next day’s advancement—sufficient in itself—is still inadequate for the day after. Living Yiddishkeit requires continuous growth; there is always room for enriching one’s spiritual life.

A further unique feature of the Mitzvah of Ner Chanukah is that while it is kindled within the home, and illuminates it with the sacred light of Torah and Mitzvot, it is required to be seen also “outside.” The basic reason for this is to “publicize the miracle of Chanukah.” But, symbolically, it conveys the message that everyone of us who lights Chanukah candles should not forget those of our brethren who, for one reason or another, are unaware of Chanukah; unaware, perhaps, even of their Jewish identity and heritage, and are walking in darkness outside. It is our duty to reach out to them and bring the light of living Yiddishkeit13 into their hearts and homes. And these efforts, too, should be carried on in the spirit of Chanukah—in a growing measure.

In summary, the Chanukah Lights remind us that every Jew, man and woman14 (both are duty-bound to fulfill this Mitzvah), has a G‑d-given task to spread the light of the Torah and Mitzvot in their personal life, in their home and family, and in the community at large; and to do all this in a consistently growing measure.

If this task may seem too difficult—the three benedictions recited over the Chanukah Lights should dispel all doubts:

The first is an expression of gratitude to HaShemwho has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah Light.” It also reminds us that since G‑d has commanded every Jew to fulfill His Mitzvot, it is certain that He has provided every Jew with all the capacities necessary to carry out His command. Obviously, G‑d would not give one a task which he knows to be beyond the individual’s capacity.15

But sometimes there may be external, seemingly insurmountable, hindrances in the way of living Jewishly to the fullest degree. So the second benediction—“...who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time ”—should not let us become disheartened. No Jew has had greater difficulty to live Jewishly than our forefathers in those days, under the oppression of that mad tyrant Antiochus. But when Jews—like Mattityahu and his sons and their followers—were determined to give their lives for Torah and Mitzvot—G‑d performed miracles for them and “delivered the mighty into the hands of the (physically) weak, the many into the hands of the few,”16 etc. G‑d is “still” capable to perform miracles for Jews, if it be necessary.

The third benediction (recited only the first time the Chanukah Light is kindled) is the familiar Shehecheyanu:...who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.” It is a joyous blessing, recited on joyous occasions, and it tells us that G‑d gives us the strength to fulfill all His Mitzvot with vitality, enthusiasm and joy.

The celebration of Chanukah, beginning on the 25th of Kislev, commemorates the rededication of the Beis Hamikdosh,16* the kindling of the Ner Tomid (the Perpetual Light of the Menorah), and the resumption of the Divine service in the purified Sanctuary.

This in summary is also the central instruction of Chanukah for the every day life and conduct of every Jew, which should be in keeping with G‑d’s request: Make for Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell in them17 (within every Jew).18 In other words, Hashem requests of every Jew, man and woman, to build and consecrate an inner “sanctuary”, on the Altar of which he and she offer to G‑d of their time, energy, money and their personal gratification.

Doing all this, and doing it with joy and enthusiasm, is a continuous process of dedication and re-dedication, a real “Chanukah” in its every day profoundest sense.

May G‑d grant that everyone of us be truly inspired by the teachings of Chanukah and of the Chanukah Lights, and translate this inspiration into actual deeds, in our everyday life and conduct.

This will surely hasten the end of the dark night of the Golus (exile), and bring the bright dawn and day of the true and complete Geulo, through our righteous Moshiach, and the fulfillment of the Divine request and promise19 to: “Raise20 your voice in song, sound the drums, the pleasant harp (Kinnor) and the lute.” The Kinnor of the Beis Hamidkosh in Moshiach’s times, the Kinnor with eight strings.21

With prayerful wishes for a bright
Chanukah and a bright always, and
With blessing,

M. Schneerson