Adding Light This Year
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
Tonight, we will be lighting the first candle of Hanukkah, so the Torah Thoughts for this week are dedicated to this festival.
I want to start with a question: Why do we light one candle the first night of Hanukkah and one additional candle each night, until we have eight candles the eighth night of Hanukkah?
The most common answer to this question is, to indicate which night of Hanukkah it is. If you see the Hanukkiah (or Menorah) each night, you immediately realize what night of the festival it is.
There is another answer given in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b), where we find the famous debate between Bet Hillel and Bet Shamai as to the number of candles to be lit each day. Bet Shamai thinks that on the first day we should light eight candles and work our way down to just one light on the last day. Bet Hillel argues that we should do the opposite: start with one candle the first night and light an additional candle each night of Hanukkah, as we do today. The rationale given by Bet Hillel is Maalin Bakodesh Veein Moridin, we increase in holiness and do not decrease. This is a general principle in Judaism, but I am not going to comment on it on this occasion.
Adding an extra light on every night also symbolizes the increased intensity of the holiday. The excitement evident in any child’s (and adult’s) eyes watching the Hanukkiah fill up is clearly felt.
Especially during this time of the year, when the days are shorter and the nights longer, adding extra light every night literally brightens our homes. It brings us warmth and hope to our souls as well.
This year has been, and continues being, a very tough year. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought sickness, death, economic suffering, isolation and loneliness. To a greater or lesser extent, we all have been affected. This is why, this year, adding light each night of Hanukkah is more needed than ever.
As we get ready for lighting the first candle of Hanukkah, I hope and pray that the lights of this Hanukkah will bring us comfort, warmth, and some happiness. May they herald a better time for us and our families. I hope the Hanukkah lights also bring us wisdom and inspiration to do what we have to do in order to fight back the disease, mitigate its effects, help those in need and behave responsibly, according to the challenges of our times. Finally, as Bet Hillel hinted in the Talmud, may the adding of light each night reminds us our goal to add holiness to our lives, through the study of Torah and the observance of the mitzvot. May our lives be filled with holiness, and may our example inspire others to act accordingly.
Shabbat Shalom! Happy Hanukkah!