Every year, on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev (which corresponded to the evening of Dec. 22 this year), Jewish people around the world celebrate Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Chanukah celebrates our freedom from persecution.
One of the ways in which we observe this holiday is by lighting the Chanukah menorah, also known as a Chanukiah. A Chanukiah is a candelabra that holds nine candles, one candle for each of the eight days of Chanukah, along with one additional candle called the Shamash, or helper candle.
We use the Shamash to light all the other candles. To properly light the Chanukiah, we put the candles in from right to left, and light them from left to right, each night lighting one more candle than the night before. Why do we light the Chanukiah in this way?
There were two different schools of thought concerning the lighting of the Chanukiah. One came from the House of Shammai, and the other from the House of Hillel (both Shammai and Hillel were Jewish scholars who lived during the reign of King Herod). Shammai argued that the number of candles we light should correspond to the number of days left of the holiday. On the first night of Chanukah, we should light all eight candles, on the second night, seven candles, and so on. Hillel argued that each night, we should light one more candle than the night before. Therefore, on the first night, we light one candle, the second, two candles, etc. Obviously, Hillel won the debate, as we light the candles in accordance with his instructions.
The students of the House of Hillel explained that the reason why we add a candle each night is because “we should ascend in holiness, not descend.” We must increase light, not diminish it.
This holiday season, we must find additional ways to “ascend in holiness.” We must look for ways to bring light where there is darkness. Whether by volunteering at a soup kitchen, collecting toys for children in need, or donating money to charity, find a way to spread a little holiday light. By participating in these activities, we illuminate our lives and the lives of others, just as the candles of the Chanukiah illuminate our Chanukah.
Rev. Sharon R. Holt is the pastor at the First Baptist Church of Southington and a member of the Southington Interfaith Clergy Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (860) 628-8121.