When such a genuine Jewish home is created, it can only be sustained through pirsumei nisa – through a public, proud, and pronounced Jewish identification. Therefore, says Rav Huna, the guarantee for children maintaining and sustaining Yiddishkeit is not institutional Judaism, the Judaism of buildings rather than people, but Ner Shabbat and Ner Chanukah. Why? Because Ner Hashem nishmat adam – God’s candle is the soul. Jews for whom institutions and buildings are paramount possess no neshamah. They have no lights.
One critical question remains: How does a Jew learn to distinguish and observe the inner meaning, the hidden mysteries, the mystique of Jewish candles? The answer is inherent in the one remaining candle – the Havdalah candle. To understand the light of Judaism, one needs to be reminded that our Sages instituted for the Havdalah to be recited in Shemoneh Esrei adjacent to the blessing and request for wisdom – da’at. We ask of God, the Source of all knowledge, to grant us knowledge, understanding, and discernment, for without wisdom how can we distinguish between holy and profane, between light and darkness, between Israel and all other nations, and between Shabbat and weekdays?
With the bright light not of single wick but of the great torch of the Havdalah candle composed of many wicks, we can understand that indeed we possess human shortcomings requiring bedikat chametz. We can be cognizant of Shabbat’s beauty and peace. We can demonstrate Chanukah’s pride and pirsumei nisa.
If we possess no wisdom and knowledge, we cannot differentiate between good and evil, light and darkness, sacred and profane. If we possess no Jewish wisdom and knowledge, we cannot differentiate between Jew and non-Jew, halachic and non-halachic Jew, chametz and matzah, Shabbat and chol.
If we possess no basic education and wisdom, how can we observe and differentiate? How can we bask in the candlelight of God’s great glory and enlighten our own existence? It is not enough to be holy; to be a Jew is to also be wise.
Our candles teach us the deepest message of God’s light.
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran, serves as OU Kosher’s vice president of communications and marketing.