Once a Lubavitch shliach was involved in helping a mother whose daughter had gotten into legal difficulties. After promising to intercede with the authorities on the girl’s behalf, he suggested: “Perhaps you would consider extending yourself a bit to arouse Divine blessings for success?”

“I’ll make any donation you want,” the mother replied. “Just tell me to which charity I should make out the check.”

“That is not what I meant at all,” the shliach assured her. “I’d like to suggest that you take upon yourself the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles on Friday nights.” After some hesitation, the woman agreed.

“Today is Friday,” the shliach told her. “I will get you candles and instructions before Shabbos begins.”

“Rabbi, I don’t exactly live around the corner from you! I’m calling from California! You can mail me the packet and I’ll light next week.”

“Where do you live?”

“In Calabasas.”

“What’s your phone number? You’ll hear from someone soon.”

The shliach called a fellow shliach in California. He briefed him about the woman’s need for candles and gave him her number.

The other shliach called: “Hello, I am a friend of Rabbi.... I have a candle-lighting kit for you. Please give me directions to your home.”

The woman was caught by surprise. “Well, I’m not home right now,” she replied, wondering at the quick response.

“Where are you?”

“I’m in a small city called Agoura Hills.”

“What street are you on?”

“Canwood road near Reyes Adobe.”

“You’re one hundred feet from the Chabad House where I’m located!”

Within minutes, the astonished woman had the candle-lighting kit in her hands.

* * *

A year later, the story was told at a chassidic gathering at a Chabad House on a college campus in Boston. A few days afterwards, during Chanukah, one of the students who attended was speaking to a friend who was spending a few days in Toronto. He wished his friend a happy holiday and asked whether he would be lighting a menorah.

“I don’t know many people here,” the friend answered. “Where in the world would I get a menorah and candles?”

Suddenly, the story came to mind. “If I get you one, will you light?” the student asked.

“Hey, that’s awfully nice of you to offer, but I wouldn’t want you to bother and spend the money mailing it.”

“Little bother, and no expense,” he assured. He contacted a shliach in the Toronto area and that evening, a menorah-lighting kit was waiting at the hotel where his friend was staying.


The Rebbe Rayatz, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, once said: “We have to listen to the Chanukah candles.”

Their flickering flames of these lights communicate a message: Our souls do not want to be contained. Just as the fire seems to desire to leave the wick even though that will cause it to be extinguished, so too, we each possess an aspect in our souls that seeks to rise from the body even though were it to do so, we will no longer continue living.

Why does the soul desire that? Because it is an actual part of G‑d and the material world in which we live is so foreign to it. Money, physical pleasures, even friendship and love cannot satisfy it. It seeks to return and be united with its G‑dly source.

This is the natural tendency of our souls. But Judaism teaches us to control this natural tendency. Just because the soul wants to leave the body does not mean it should. That would be spiritual escapism. G‑d implanted the soul in the body and sent it to this material world so that it would shine forth and in that way, illuminate the darkness of material existence. Our souls are charged with a mission: to make this world a dwelling for Him: to reveal the G‑dliness latent in every material entity.

Like a flame rises and falls, so too, our souls surge upward in yearning for G‑d and then return earthward in a commitment to fulfill His will. This is implied by our Sages’ teaching: “Against your will, you live and against your will, you die.”

We should appreciate how our lives run contrary to the fundamental desire of the soul to cling to its G‑dly source. Its natural tendency is to seek a higher more refined existence, not to be involved in matters of this world. Nevertheless, after it accepts the mission with which G‑d entrusts it, it learns to appreciate the good in this world and understands how everything in this world has a positive purpose and can be employed for a Divine intent. Once this lesson is internalized, the soul does not want to leave the world. On the contrary, it comprehends the beauty and meaning that each moment of life holds.

In essence, the challenge is to create wicks to hold the soul’s flame, to give it footholds in this world to which its light can be attached and in that way, burn in a steady manner.

These concepts are relevant throughout the year, but receive special emphasis on Chanukah, when there is a mitzvah to kindle lights. The Chanukah candles we light recall the miraculous victory of the Jews over the Greeks. What was the core of that conflict? The Greeks wanted to contaminate the light of the Jews’ souls. That’s why when they entered the Temple, they did not destroy the oil there. They made it impure. They were not opposed to having the Jews kindle lights; they just wanted to be sure that the light had a Greek touch.

The Jews refused to accept that. They understood that the light of their soul had to be pure and they were willing to sacrifice their very lives for that purpose. When G‑d saw the completeness of their devotion, He responded with a miracle, granting them a victory over the strongest military power of the world. Then to emphasize that their success was not the result of their own prowess, He performed a further miracle, causing the light of the Menorah to burn for eight days and thus revealing that it was G‑d’s hand that had brought them success.

Looking to the Horizon

The candles of the Chanukah menorah commemorate the candles lit on the Menorah in the Temple. Nevertheless, there are eight Chanukah candles, whereas in the Temple there were only seven candles.

Our Sages explain that the seven candles of the Temple represent the natural order like the seven days of the week. In contrast, the eight lights of Chanukah refer to transcendent spirituality. In a similar way, they explain that the harp that was played in the Temple had seven strands, but in the era of Mashiach, they will use a harp of eight strands.

What’s the difference between seven and eight? Seven is a complete natural cycle. Nothing is lacking. Eight is seven plus one. It contributes a oneness that enriches all the elements of the seven. To cite a parallel: The word גולה, exile, shares four of the letters of the word גאולה, redemption. But גאולה also has an alef, numerically equivalent to one and standing for G‑d’s transcendent oneness. When G‑d’s oneness is drawn down, the exile is transformed into redemption.

Similarly, with regard to the relationship between seven and eight, the intent is not to obliterate the seven with the light of eight’s infinity, but rather to combine seven with one, and express G‑d’s transcendence within the limits of the world.