CHANUKAH GIFT GUIDE 2017
Books, whether Shakespearean sonnets or historical panoramas, make great Chanukah gifts. Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider’s The Light That Unites: A Chanukah Companion (OU Press), wrapped in Aitana Perlmutter’s artwork, is perfect.
Regardless of how holiday illiterate you are, this large compilation of rituals, rabbinic sources, teachings, stories and anecdotes will make you an authority.
The chapter headings separate the book into three parts: “Lighting the Menorah,” “A Teaching for Each Candle” and “Customs and Birkat Hamazon, Grace after Meals.”
Instead of a right-to-left progression perfunctorily performed, The Light That Unites is a sublimely informative thread connecting the mind and soul to a deeper appreciation of Chanukah
“The mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah candles is formulated in an odd manner in the Gemara (Shabbat 21b),” Goldscheider writes. “The basic mitzvah is stated as ner ish u’beito, one candle is kindled for the entire household each night of Chanukah.
“The performance of the mitzvah is thus expressed as the obligation of the household, rather than in the customary form of an individual obligation.”
Chanukah, which is usually associated with the Maccabees’ fierce battle to defend Jewish houses of study, also celebrates the sanctity of the Jewish family — the internal Beit Hamikdash.
That’s just for starters.
“There is another aspect of uniting we should be aware of,” Goldscheider continues. “Namely, Judaism teaches us that each person is endowed with a divine spark, an inner light, which G-d implanted in each one of us . . . There is hidden potential within the heart of each person.
“Chanukah reminds us of our inner light, our G-d-given talents, and our uniqueness that we strive to reveal to the world.”
Even in a household of one, where memories are the only guests, lighting the menorah is a palpably renewing act.
A prescient comment by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik elucidates the book’s necessity: “Chanukah has yet to be mined for its multifaceted insights and relevant lessons.”
Goldscheider, who compares The Light That Unites to a Haggadah for Chanukah, describes the work as a humble attempt to address that need.
He divides Chanukah into eight major themes: peace, love, family, heroism, miracles, hope, unity and holiness.
Commentary, rabbinic stories, songs, blessings and even Gematria illuminate the text.
In the “Menorah” chapter titled “Preparing to Light,” Goldscheider covers all the ritual bases and ambient requisites. Again, this is not a one-two-three-go approach.
First, gather the family together. No outliers allowed.
Turn off the lights. Make sure everyone has a menorah to light, not just one person.
Gather chairs facing the menorah. Following the lighting, sit down and share memories of Chanukahs past or celebrate modern-day heroes.
No work, TV or smart phones, please.
Put on joyous music and dance.
Offer a private prayer. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that lit candles create a prayerful sacred space.
Invite family and friends to share in the candle lighting. As a renown rabbi once said, “If you want your holiday to be meaningful, give it to somebody else.”
Finally, enjoy a celebratory meal.
Remember that candles are added right to left every night but are kindled from left to right.
“When performing rituals,” Goldscheider writes, “we generally say that the right side takes preference. The Rebbe of Strikov suggested that the lighting of the menorah should parallel our hearts.
“We light on the left, which parallels a person’s heart.”
Lighting candles for eight days is often viewed as a symbolic reference to the miraculous eight nights of oil — but Goldscheider, using various sources, enlarges the context.
“We generally do not have a mitzvah where the quality of [a soul’s] ‘ascending’ is built into the mitzvah itself,” he writes. “One exception is the mitzvah of the Chanukah lights.
“The Talmudic sage Hillel holds that we light an additional candle each night of Chanukah because we need to ‘ascend in holiness.’
“The menorah is a powerful symbol of our spiritual strivings, ascending the ladder in our devotion and commitment, step by step, night after night.”
Perlmutter’s illustrations circulate throughout, intensifying the majesty of pure wonder.
The Light That Unites is similar to a prayer book. After reading it, you will embrace Chanukah with fresh eyes and a whole heart.