The Laws of Chanuka

The Menorah

Electric Menorahs should not be used to fulfill the Mitzvah. Use either wax candles or oil. Olive oil is best.  In order to beautify the Mitzvah, the Chanukiyah itself should be attractive.  If possible, one should light the Chanukiyah 20 minutes after sunset, and the flame should burn for at least 30 minutes after the stars appear. If one did not light the candles at this time, one may light them with a Berachah as long as the family is awake. If he failed to light them until all are asleep, he may light them without a Berachah until daybreak.

Lighting the Candles

On the first night the wick or candle is placed on the extreme right of the Chanukiyah. On every subsequent night, another wick or candle is placed to the left of this and the new one is always lit first.  The candles or wicks must be placed in an even row at equal heights.  There should be space between each wick so that it is easily distinguishable as to how many candles are burning.

On the first night three Berachot are recited before the candles are lit, as found in the Siddur. Every other night only the first two Berachot are said. Aside from the Chanukah lights necessary for that night, an extra candle is lit: the Shamash. This is used to light the candles and stands apart the others. After the first flame is lit each night the Heneroth Halalu is said as the others are lit.

On Friday the Chanukiyah is lit before the Shabbat candles. The Chanukiyah must burn for at least 1/2 hour after the stars appear, which is a total of approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes from the time that they are lit. Therefore one should use longer candles. On Saturday night the Chanukiyah is lit in synagogue before Havdalah, and at home after Havdalah.

The Meaning of Chanuka

There are three major questions regarding the observance of Chanuka today.

  1. Why do we celebrate a great military victory with tiny flames? After all, a flame is fragile with one flicker of a finger it can be extinguished. Victories, especially military one's are celebrated with great pomp, parades and brass bands?
  2. Why did the miracle of Chanukah happen after the fact. After the battles had been won after the temple was re-captured and re-dedicated?
  3. What was the message that Hashem intended us to receive by making the lights of the menorah last for eight days?

Chanukah is a victory celebration in which the emphasis is not on the struggle against tyranny, land liberated or the military victory, although there certainly was one. It is the celebration of a spiritual struggle and a spiritual victory. This is why there is no halachic ordinance of making meals and giving gifts as on Purim, but only saying Hallel and lighting candles.

The Jewish people refused to surrender to the tidal wave of the dominant Greek culture which proclaimed that only it alone was civilized and relevant. By stubbornly insisting on maintaining their own religious values and spiritual way of life the Jews of that time not only survived but also revived Judaism for the future. The Greek challenge was more insidious than the pagan one which only offered immorality and barbarism. The Greeks offered aesthetics and philosophy the perfect mind in a perfect body in a beautiful environment, the Olympics and genius.

The Greeks had no desire to destroy the Jewish land or to spill Jewish blood, their purpose was to unify their empire by forming one culture by imposing their values and their religion. They did not set out to destroy the temple or the Menorah. They were satisfied to allow temple life to function as long as it marched to a Greek tune.

A candle flame is the physical manifestation of the spiritual Ner Hashem Nishmat Adam says King Solomon in Mishle. The verse in Proverbs (6:23) likens mitzvot to lamps and Torah to light just as a lamp requires a wick and oil, which must be lit, so is man the wick onto which Hashem pours wisdom (oil), so that the soul may become incandescent with holiness, spreading the .light of holiness that can light up the world. The essence of the Jew is his spirit.

The number eight has always reminded us of being above nature, of the miraculous. The eight day miracle of the oil was a miraculous reflection of the resurrection of the will of the Jewish people to resist efforts of the Greeks to destroy the Torah way of life and the final success of their efforts.

The Miracle happened right at the end, after the wars were won and the Temple was recaptured and cleansed. Many times a person tries their best to serve Hashem, sometimes there are gray areas and doubts creep in, a person asks himself "Did I do the right thing?" If only we could get a sign from Hashem like the Maccabees that our efforts were correct and approved. Nobody after witnessing the miracle could deny the validity of the aims and methods of the Maccabees.

Let us this Chanukah do as our forebears before us, rededicate ourselves to Hashem and the Torah.