Chanukah teaches a lot. But everything it teaches — about Jewish disunity, Jewish persecution, Jewish courage, Jewish faith, Jewish freedom — lives behind the lights. The flames, whether burning wax or burning oil — the flames. Not just the lights, but light.
The candlelight that looms beautiful even before we ponder its meaning. The candlelight that puts the winter darkness and the darkness that constricts our lives in. . . a new light! Candlelight is a compelling metaphor because candlelight itself is compelling — the ceaseless intermingling of colors, the rising flame, the gentle illumination, the warmth, the gestalt.
Few realize that the fundamental obligation is to light one Chanukah light per night per family. Not an additional light each night. Not a separate menorah for children or other members of the family. Just one light per night per home. That is the basic obligation. Why, then, the universal custom to light an additonal light each night, and on top of that to let other family members kindle their own menorah?
It’s called mehadrin, “beautifying” the mitzvah by doing more than what is strictly required. It’s the same idea as giving 20%, not the basic 10%, of one’s net income to tzedakah; it’s the same idea as purchasing a perfectly shaped etrog, not an adequate yet imperfect one. Mehadrin: Nowhere more than Chanukah is the added effort and added expense embraced. Why? The flames, the lights, the light.
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