What do you prefer for your Chanukah lights? Wax candles, or olive oil? In our family, we use oil. After all, that’s what they used in the Menorah in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Plus, I like the way it looks.
The great Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin (1740-1792) preferred wax. His reason? Well, apparently, they would somehow affix the wax candles to the wall, and he liked the fact that this would subsequently leave a mark on the wall for the duration of the year, serving as a daily reminder of the Chanukah miracle. Oil lamps, on the other hand, did not leave such a mark.
One year — for one reason or another — he used oil lamps. The flames ended up causing something of a mini-conflagration, and the wall was charred as a result. Rabbi Shlomo was quite pleased by this development, for, despite the fact that he did not light with his usual wax candles, there was still a mark remaining on the wall.
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Certainly, all mitzvot (commandments) produce effects in this world on multiple planes; however, this effect is not always readily discernible. The Kabbalists teach that with the performance of each mitzvah, the Ein Sof (Infinite Light of the Creator) is drawn into the world; yet this kind of light is not visible to our physical eyes.
Chanukah candles are unique in that not only is their effect readily perceived by the naked eye, but (in contrast to Shabbat or Holiday candles), their placement must be such that their light is also visible to passers-by on the outside of the home. Thus, each passerby — Jew and gentile — notices the light of the Menorah and hears its call to action.
For action is a pivotal element of Chanukah. In fact, Chanukah is ushered in, first and foremost, by an action. Thus, we light the Menorah at the earliest possible opportunity, even before the evening prayers — whereas on other holidays, the “action” of the day (eating matzah on Passover, for example) does not happen immediately at the start of the day.
The very message of the Menorah is a call to action. Philosophizing in an ivory tower may have its time and place, but it alone will neither upgrade our lives or change the world. As the Chassidic adage goes, “The heart must influence the mind, so that the idea should become manifest in action.”
Chanukah reminds us to place prime significance on the action. When we take action, we light up ourselves, our homes, and the entire world.
Happy Chanukah & have a great week,