Chanukah: Projecting a Light Beyond
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Monday 15th December 2014

The Midrash relates that Moshe could not comprehend why G-d had commanded a Menorah to be lit in the Sanctuary (Mishkan). Whenever Moshe entered, he found the Mishkan already brilliantly lit with the splendour of the Divine Presence (Shechinah). How could the lights of the poor earthly Menorah compare to the intense light which the Shechinah radiated? G-d responded to Moshe: “you will be spiritually elevated by kindling the Menorah”. We see from this that G-d did not command the Menorah to be lit for His own sake, as He does not need the light of mortals. Rather it was lit for human benefit.

This idea can also be seen in the makeup of the windows of the Temple, which were built in an unusual manner. Rather than being wider inside to let the light in, they were narrower inside the Temple and wider towards the outside, thus projecting the light to the world beyond the Temple’s confines. The light of the Temple was not self-contained for its own sake or for G-d’s sake. It was there to radiate on behalf of humanity at large.

The miracle of a small amount of oil burning for a disproportionate amount of time happened long before the Chanukah story. The Western light of the Menorah (Ner Ma’aravi) received no more oil than the rest of the lamps, yet when the Kohen came to clean the Menorah every morning he always found it burning (Mishnah Tamid). In fact he used the flame to relight the Menorah in the evening. According to some opinions it was relit only once a year.

In parashat Tetzaveh, G-d promised Aharon (the Kohen Gadol – High Priest) that the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah would be l'ha'alot ner tamid, to light an eternal light (Shemot 27:20 27). Something about the Menorah would last forever. The Ramban (Nachmanides d. 1270) explains that Aharon’s descendants, the Hasmoneans, would eventually institute a mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights, a mitzvah that we are still performing today.

Like the Menorah in the Temple, the mitzvah of Chanukah candles does not remain with us so that we can enjoy its light. Rather it elevates us and its light is projected to the world through our own windows, next to which the Menorah is ideally put. We emulate the outward-facing windows of the Temple to radiate the light of G-d's presence which we saw in the Chanukah miracle and we see in our survival today. If we feel a sense of inhibition because of an often hostile climate, perhaps we can take strength by looking back at our enduring existence. We can light the Menorah in our windows and radiate a sense of spirituality to the entire world. Each year our public demonstration of our spirituality should fill us with pride in being Jewish.

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