Chanukah — the eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of Kislev 25 — celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.

More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G‑d. When they sought to light the Temple's menorah, they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled. On Chanukah we also recite Hallel and the Al HaNissim prayer to offer praise and thanksgiving to G‑d for "delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few... the wicked into the hands of the righteous." Customs include eating foods fried in oil — latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts); playing with the dreidel (a spinning top on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, "A great miracle happened there"); and the giving of Chanukah gelt, gifts of money, to children.


Our exploration of the soul of Chanukah consists of eight essays—one for each of the eight flames of Chanukah — which examine the various themes of the festival, the miracles it commemorates, and the laws governing its observance.

The Flame discusses the uniqueness of the lamp as a metaphor for the soul of man, which the Torah describes as ner Hashem, a lamp of G‑d.

The Transparent Body examines the concept of spirituality. Why is Chanukah the most spiritual of the festivals? What lesson is there in this to the great majority of us, whose lives are of a decidedly material nature?

Nightlight focuses on the significance of the Chanukah menorah as a generator of light, and its similarities and differences with its predecessor, the menorah in the Holy Temple. 

Who were the Greeks, and what was the nature of the challenge they posed to the purity of Israel? That is the question addressed in The Mudswamps of Hella. The following essay, The Miracle, probes the nature of heroism and self-sacrifice, while Compromise discusses another of Chanukahs themes—education—and includes the surprising revelation that the primary miracle of Chanukah was completely unnecessary.

The Lamplighter offers an insight into the character of the shamash, the servant candle who ignites the Chanukah lamps and stands watch over their light. Our eighth and concluding essay, Accumulating Lights, discusses the specialty of Zot Chanukah — the eighth day of Chanukah and the only day of the festival distinguished by a name of its own. We learn of the unique perspective on Chanukah offered by the sages of Hillel and the challenge of making the most spiritual festival in the Jewish calendar a real and actual force in our lives.