“The festival of lights” = “חנוכה” (chanuka) is an amusing translation.
Indeed our Mitzvah over the past 8 days was to celebrate the “light”, but festivities isn’t what was in mind.
How did Chanuka turn into the following equation…
The Menorah was fueled by oil. Oil = food cooked into oil= festive meals = presents and more presents= large scale chanuka concerts = viral acapella music videos that “Shlock Rocks” (a.k.a parody) the latest Goyish hook?
No that’s not Chanuka. It’s cute, it’s entertaining, it’s fun, it sells, but it’s not Chanuka.
You don’t have to look far to discover the nature of Chanuka, but sometimes its very essence is overlooked.
A verse (not as popular as Maot Tzur!) recited after the Menorah lighting declares its purpose:
הנרות האלו אנו מדליקין על הישועות ועל הנסים ועל הנפלאות אשר עשית לאבותינו על ידי כהניך הקדושים וכל [מצוות] שמונת ימי החנוכה הנרות האלו קודש ואין לנו רשות להשתמש בהן אלא לראותן בלבד כדי להודות שמך על נפלאותיך ועל ניסיך ועל ישועתך.
These lights we light reflect the salvation, miracles and wonders performed in merit of our forefathers through the holy Kohanim and all the Mizvot performed these 8 days of Chanuka…These Lights are holy and we don’t have permission to use them for ANY PURPOSE except to look at them, to show gratitude for the wonders/miracles and salvation Hashem has brought us.
The purpose of lighting the Menorah is simple: To look at them. Not warmth, not illumination, not scent…viewing purposes only.
Why is that?
You can spend days reading the scholarly answers through the centuries, but I’d like to offer just one right now, from the holy “Arizal” Rabbi Isaac Luria of Safed:
כדי שלא יתאחזו החיצונים בקדושת האור על ידי תשמיש החול הזה
(We only use the menorah light for viewing) In order for us not to simply grasp the external fire, which would make us in turn overlook the holiness of the light, by using the fire for a “Chol” (non-sacred) purpose.
For example: If I used the menorah to read a book, or even learn Torah: its purpose is for reading and that will diminish our ability to perceive the holy nature of the light!
And what’s wrong with using it for out external benefits?
To answer that let me share with you a story: I once was “bageled” at an auto mechanic shop. For those who aren’t familiar, to be “bageled” means they notice you are Jewish and they ask you about everything Jewish they know about: from the Sabbath to Satan and everything in between.
As the manager of the store continued to “Bagel” me, at one point he stopped and shared with me a story (which explained all the “Jewish” talk).
He said to me, “One time I got into a really bad motorcycle accident. I ran through six barbed wire fences, and in the process of the collision everything went black. I couldn’t see a thing. And when I came to and stood up, all my clothing was ripped off, (except for his drawers,) in the wake of the crash.”
He told me, “I looked up and I noticed asides from the apparent darkness, a beam of light…shining down on me. I looked everywhere else and I didn’t notice any light such as this with the exception of on me.
At that moment, I realized that God decided to press the button and tell me that it wasn’t my time yet.”
I asked him if he ever made a meal of thanks in response to the crash. He said to me, every meal. Because a person never knows what meal will be his last, every meal is a meal of thanks for his existence, due to this beacon of light.
I asked him, so for how many years have you been thanking God. He told me, “The crash was 40 years ago…”
You never know when that beacon of light may hit you when everything else goes black. You never know when the message will be loud and clear, unmuffled and undistorted. You never know when the emotions surging inside are jolted from divine inspiration.
But the Menorah reminds us…sometimes we have to black everything else in life out, all our other priorities and needs, to focus on just that light.
8 days a year we have an opportunity to do so, while the Menorah remains lit.
But that experience should not be ephemeral or short lived.
Chanuka also contains the letters הכן: to prepare. Our viewing of this untampered holy light is meant to prepare us for the rest of the year in order to witness this “light” the divine messages constantly hurled at us, as Hashem patiently waits for us to just look up and see it!
So now Chanuka has come and gone, let that light carry us through and truly experience Hashem’s direct messages to us, to grow from strength to strength.
Shavua Tov. All the best to everyone, dear friends.