In teaching the proper place to light the Chanukah menorah, the Talmud states that the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles is “by the door of one’s house on the outside.” If one lives above the street, he should light the menorah in a window. And during times of danger, one lights it within his or her own home.
The lighting of the Chanukah flames was established for the purpose of publicizing the miracle of the Jewish people during the Syrian-Greek persecution. Religion had been banned, the temple destroyed, and proclaiming one’s belief in G-d was met by death.
A small group of Jews led by Matisyahu and his sons, known as the Maccabees, led a revolt against their Syrian-Greek oppressors. The few overpowered the many, the righteous prevailed over the wicked, and the mighty fell in the hands of the weak. Yet, when the small army of believers entered the Temple, there was no pure oil sealed by the high priest to be found. Their enemies had defiled every last jar, and no pure oil was available with which to kindle the menorah.
The menorah was a special vessel within the Temple. Its light signified how G-d dwells among his people, and the pure oil represented the pure essence and soul within each Jew that is a light of G-d in this world. The Greeks had tried to defile the very soul of the Jewish people, and the people who had fought back, with the cry that no Jewish soul can ever be defiled, could find no pure oil.
But the people believed that the defilement of a soul was impossible and therefore continued searching, trusting that just as a soul cannot be lost, so too there must be pure oil that is not lost as well.
The miracle of finding that one flask of oil sealed by the High Priest and its lasting miraculously for eight days and nights told the story of their victory. The story that even one small pure soul can beat all odds; that no oceans or rivers can drown the light and love of a Jewish soul; and that as low as one may fall, he can always rise above and shine.
So the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles was established to publicize the miracle of purity and faith, to bring its light to streets, communities and markets, warming the world with its presence and message.
Yet, the Talmud teaches us that there can be times when taking the flame directly into the street may serve no purpose, for the community might reject its message. The social order will argue that pure faith and old traditions are a thing of the past. They will place modernity and worldly pleasure as the only scientific reality, and question anything G-dly.
Under these circumstances, the Talmud teaches that to continue telling the true story of the miracle, you should light the menorah in your own home. As the passers-by see the warmth permeating the home from candles lit, a Shabbat meal being shared by a warm and loving family and beautiful harmonious song, they will see the impact and effect of the pure soul. They might not comprehend the actual Kiddush or the holiness of the Shabbat candles, yet the warmth and tranquility achieved through faith and purity of soul will be plainly evident.
The effects of Judaism are real and tangible and create a place of belonging in a broken world. A home of tradition, holidays and Shabbat has a glow and beauty that no plastic surgery can replicate. It may not be scientific or modern, but it is heartwarming and pure.
So this Chanukah, bring the light of faith to your street and community, but remember that the warmth starts at home. Spend the time with your loved ones and make sure that they experience firsthand the miracle of Judaism. For their pure young souls are the miraculous candles that will light up the world, making a better and brighter future.
Have a good Shabbat and happy Chanukah. PJC
Rabbi Elchonon Friedman is the spiritual leader of B’nai Emunoh Chabad. This column is a service of Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.