"For a mitzvah is a candle, and Torah, light" (Proverbs 6:23). The essence of our mission in life is to shed light, to illuminate a universe darkened by ignorance and strife.

Three mitzvot reflect their quintessential function by taking the form of actual, physical light: the lamps of the menorah, which the Torah instructs to kindle each afternoon in the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple); the lights of Shabbat, kindled in every Jewish home just prior to sunset on Shabbat eve; and the Chanukah lights, kindled at nightfall each evening of the eight-day festival of Chanukah.

This time-sequence (afternoon, evening, night) corresponds to the historical time-sequence in which these lights entered our lives. First came the lights of the menorah, commanded by G‑d at Sinai and written into the Torah (Exodus 27:20-21). The Shabbat lights came later, a rabbinical institution designed to foster harmony in the home on the holy day.1 Most recent in linear time are the Chanukah lights, instituted twenty-one centuries ago in commemoration of the miracle of Chanukah.

The progression to illuminate increasingly darker areas of time also corresponds to the spatial placement of these three lights. The menorah stood in the holiest place on earth, in the edifice that was the seat of G‑d's manifest presence in the physical world. The Shabbat candles illuminate the home, an environment that embraces both our sacred endeavors (Torah study, prayer, acts of charity, etc.) as well as our more "mundane" activities. But the home is our private sanctum; here we are in control, and the task of achieving harmony between the spiritual and material components of home life is, if not always easy, within evident reach.

Then there are the Chanukah lights. Placed in the doorway or in a window, their stated function is to illuminate the street—to reach out to the stranger, to enlighten the untamed forces that prowl the night.2

So goes the journey of light. A journey through time and space to ever duskier vistas, to increasingly alien environments. A journey from midday in Jerusalem to the darkest reaches of a world awaiting redemption.

Based on an entry in the Rebbe's journal, dated "Chanukah 5740" (1939)3