We are in midst of celebrating Hanukkah. The Jewish custom is to start the holiday by lighting one candle the first night and then to add one additional candle each night until the eighth night, when eight candles will be lit. Originally, the custom of adding one candle a night was debated by the Rabbis during the first centuries of the Common Era. The Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 21b) describes an argument that occurred between two early Jewish schools of thought, the schools of Shammai and of Hillel, regarding the order of lighting the Hanukkah candles. According to the school of Shammai, the lighting of these candles is done as a countdown, starting from eight candles on the first night until we get to one candle on the last night of the holidays. The school of Hillel disagreed and taught, one candle is lit the first night and then for each night of Hanukkah one candle is added until eight are lit the final night. The school of Hillel reasoned that for matters of ritual, it was appropriate to elevate spiritually, through adding, and not downgrade it by subtracting one candle each night. The current practice is to follow the School of Hillel’s opinion.
The lights of Hanukkah symbolize hope and positive energy in our lives. By adding a candle each night, we are symbolically adding more positive energy and light into the world. Yet, when we look at a candle, we also see vulnerability. A flame flickers and eventually goes out. As we continue to add a flame each night, the candles become more vulnerable, as the heat emanating from each new candle causes the candles to melt faster each night. Hence, on the eighth night, when the Hanukkah menorah is shining brightest, it is also burning away the fastest.
In life, we strive to grow spiritually. However, as we become closer to our spirit, we are increasingly vulnerable to periods of darkness. As we gaze upon the lights of the Hanukkah menorah, may we be able to remember the light that shines forth from all of us and be able to focus on continued growth during this holiday season.
Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner is campus chaplain of The Oscar an Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, which is comprised of Stein Assisted Living and the Jaffa Gate Memory Care Neighborhood, Stein Hospice, Wilentz Senior Residence, Wilf Transport and The Foundation at the Wilf Campus. For more information, call 732-568-1155, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.wilfcampus.org.