There’s an inherent problem in the rabbinic commandment that we may only watch the Chanukah candles but not use them. It works fine for stopping oneself from re-lighting a Shamash candle whose flame went out with one of the lit candles – everybody knows you’re not supposed to use the Chanukah candle for that, you have to strike a new match and light the Shamash anew (gone are the day when everyone around the Menorah had a useful, little Bic lighter in their pocket).
But what about the light – can it be used to illuminate an otherwise dark room? Can we only watch the Chanukah candles with all the electric lights on in the room, lest we see by mistake an object other than the Chanukah candles which is lit by those same candles, and thus be using them for something other than pure sight?
Like these two young women in the picture – or us, watching the picture for that matter, are we in violation of Rabbinic law by also spotting the ponchikes (sufganiot, jelly doughnuts)?
One quick solution would be to swallow up those lovely, fried dough balls and then there will be nothing left to see other than pure Chanukah lights, in memory of the miracle.
In honor of the Palestinians recently getting UN recognition, I dedicate my article to ancient Palestinian traditions. 🙂
On Chanukah, while lighting candles, we declare we’re lighting the candles for Chanukah, and that we’re not allowed to benefit from their light.
This declaration, in Hebrew known as “Ha-Nerot Hallalu” (These Candles) appears in the “Tractate of the Scribes” (Masechet Sofrim). In this early Halachik work, written in Israel around the 8th century (the Gaonic Era), we have a description of the ceremony of lighting Hanukkah candles, as it was done in ancient Israel.
On the first day, the person lighting the candles blesses upon lighting them. He then states the following declaration (translation based on the Rabbi Birnbaum’s siddur):
We light these candles on account of the triumphs and miracles and wonders which You performed for our fathers through Your holy priests. Throughout these eight days of Hanukkah, these candles are sacred, and we are not permitted to make any use of them, but we should observe them in order to praise Your great name for Your wonders and Your miracles and Your triumphs.
The person lighting then adds two additional blessings: Shehecheyanu and the blessing over the Hanukkah miracle (Al Ha-Nissim). The participants repeat the last two blessings.
On the other days of the holiday, the person lighting the candles blesses upon lighting the candles and makes the aforementioned Declaration. The participants say the blessing for the Hanukkah miracle.
This Israeli custom was generally forgotten and was not mentioned by any other Halachic books in the centuries following .
That is, until the 13th century, when the Israeli tradition was revived thanks to the custom of a German Rabbi. Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, also known as the Maharam of Rothenburg, loved the Israeli traditions. He adopted the custom to say the “These Candles” declaration, based on the language of Masechet Sofrim.
His students reported this custom, and the prayer went viral. The custom to say “Ha-Nerot Hallalu” was adopted all across the Jewish world by both Ashekanzi and Sephardi communities.
The Maharam of Rothenburg didn’t just love Israel from afar. In 1286 he led dozens of Jewish families towards Israel. However, he didn’t make it. He was caught in Italy and accused of leading a mass escape from Germany, a crime at the time, as the Jews were by then property of the king. He was imprisoned and died in a dingy pit, sacrificing his life for the right of return to Palestine!
An edict confiscating the property of the “escaping” Jews, documents that they came from various towns in Germany: Mainz, Worms, Speyer, Oppenheim and Wetterau.
I had often wondered, if Jews love Israel so much, why didn’t they just get up and come here. The Mahram’s Aliyah attempt showed that Jews did. They weren’t always successful, many times they perished on the way or soon after they got here, but they continued trying. Over and over again.
We now have the privilege of retuning to our homeland. We can now adhere to the original Israeli custom of lighting the candle by the door of our homes or the gate of our yard, without fear. When we recite “Ha-Nerot Hallalu”, we should remember its origin in that obscure period of Palestinian history, and the great leader who died in a dark pit but spread the light of hope and salvation around the Jewish world.
The first night of Chanukah marks the beginning of a holiday that for many of its celebrants has no identity, that celebrates ‘celebration’, with no thought to what it is celebrating. For many Americans, Chanukah appears to overlap with Christmas, but there is no similarity between the two other than the season. The more appropriate analogy is to the 4th of July overlaid with Thanksgiving, a celebration of divine aid in a military campaign against tyrannical oppression.
The overt militarism of the Chanukah story has made it an uncomfortable fit for many Jews who have found it easier to strip away its dangerous underlying message that a time comes when you must choose between the destruction of your culture and a war you can’t win. In those dark days a war must be fought if the soul of the nation is to survive.
There are worse things than death and slavery, the fates waiting for the Maccabees and their allies had they failed, the fates that came anyway when the last of the Maccabees were betrayed and murdered by Caesar’s Edomite minister, whose sons went on to rule over Israel as the dynasty of Herod.
Nations can survive the mass murder of their bodies, but not the death of their spirit. A nation does not die, until its soul dies, and the soul of a nation is in its culture and its faith, not in the bodies of its citizens.
Tonight that first candle, that first glimmer of flame over oil, marks the night that the Maccabee forces entered Jerusalem, driving out the enemy armies and their Jewish collaborators, and reclaiming their people’s culture and religion.
The light of the flame was a powerful message sent across time, that even in the darkest hour, hope was not lost. And Divine Providence would not abandon the people. Time passed the Maccabees fell, Jerusalem was occupied and ethnically cleansed over and over again, and still the menorah burned on. A covert message that still all hope was not lost. That Israel would rise again.
Israel had used signal fires and torches held up on mountain tops to pass along important news. The lighting of the menorah was a miniature signal fire, a perpetuation of the temple light, its eight-day light a reminder that even the smallest light can burn beyond expectation and light beyond belief and that those who trust in G-d and fight for the freedom to believe in Him, should never abandon hope.
That divine signal fire first lit in the deserts by freed slaves has been passed on for thousands of years. Today the menorah is on the seal of the State of Israel, the product of a modern day Chanukah. The mark of a Jerusalem liberated in a miracle of six days, not eight. Six as in the number of the original temple Menorah. And the one on the seal as well.
For those liberals who believe that Jewish identity should be limited to donating to help Haiti, agitating for illegal aliens and promoting the environment; Chanukah is a threatening holiday. They have secularized it, dressed it up with teddy bears and toys, trimmed it with the ecology and civil rights of their new faith. Occasionally a Jewish liberal learns the history of it and writes an outraged essay about nationalism and militarism, but mostly they are content to bury it in the same dark cellar that they store the rest of the history of their people and the culture that they left behind.
Holidays aren’t mere parties, they are messages. Knots of time that we tie around the fingers of our lives so that we remember what our ancestors meant us to never forget. That they lived and died for a reason. The party is a celebration, but if we forget what it celebrates, then it becomes a celebration of celebration. A hollow and soulless festival of the self. The Maccabees fought because they believed they had something worth fighting for. Not for their possessions, but for their traditions, their families and their G-d. The celebration of Chanukah is not just how we remember them, but how we remember that we are called upon to keep their watch. To take up their banner and carry their sword.
I found these sleek looking shot glasses in a number of stores. Lined up neatly, they can create simple, yet striking (and certainly sweet) centerpieces for your Chanukah parties. Here is one colorful suggestion. (Tip: When purchasing the shot glasses, stick with something simple. The simpler the glass, the more dramatic the projects will look)
Striped Jello Menorah
With a couple of simple steps you can create eye-catching striped jello “candles.” You’ll find that not only are the results a great conversation piece, but each step fun and intriguing as you add each layer one by one. For best results use Kolitan Jello, as it congeals to a perfect texture for the tilts. Additionally its colors will not “bleed” one into the other.
1 box lime Kolatin Jello
1 box raspberry or strawberry Kolatin Jello (I added in a couple of drops of blue food coloring to make a purple color.)
1 box orange Kolatin Jello
9 Shot glasses
Glass tea light holder
Narrow tray (optional)
1. Prepare the first color, following the directions on the jello box.
2. Pour it into your glasses, filling them approximately a third of the way up.
3. Once each glass is filled evenly, it’s time to tilt. Place glasses in a cupcake pan, being careful that each glass is tilted in the same direction and angle.
4. Place inside refrigerator and allow to jell.
5. Repeat step one using a new color and adjusting the tilt of each glass in your cupcake pan accordingly.
6. Prepare the last layer of jello and then refrigerate the glasses in an upright position.
7. When totally jelled, line up all the shot glasses in a neat row (place on tray if desired).
8. For the “Shamash,” raise the center glass by placing it on a glass tea light holder (turned upside down).
I am writing this column as Hurricane Sandy is barreling through the greater New York area, after having sorted a load of clean laundry by the light of a group of yahrtzeit candles and having washed my supper dishes with the aid of a clip on barbeque lamp. My electricity went out almost four hours ago and thoughts of what I did right and what I did wrong in preparation for a one of a kind storm that ironically, bears my name are still fresh in my mind.
Hurricane Sandy marks the second time I have had my electricity knocked out by a late October storm, having lost power exactly one year ago for five and a half days during a freak snowstorm that turned my little corner of the world into something that looked more like a war zone than a picturesque hamlet in New York’s Hudson Valley. In light of last year’s storm, I thought I had all my pre-storm preparations under control, but I can tell you right now that I was wrong and I am hoping that as we celebrate the anniversary of last year’s power outage with yet another blackout, I will finally learn my lesson and be better prepared for future meteorological mishaps.
I should add that this is by no means a comprehensive guide to weathering a storm (no pun intended.) Those are available by the dozen on the Internet, although you obviously want to read those before the storm blows through and totally decimates your wireless connection. These are just random tips that I have had the unfortunate opportunity to collect during too many days without electricity.
Lesson Number 1: It doesn’t matter what the season, storms can be very serious business and should be respected, given their ability to wreak havoc with our lives, particularly in this day and age when our lives revolve around numerous items that require electricity. So be it a hurricane, a nor’easter, a blizzard or a tropical storm, don’t underestimate the weather’s ability to do major damage.
Lesson Number 2: Just because you think you are prepared for a storm doesn’t mean you are. I know I have enough flashlights for every member of my family and that I have a basket full of batteries sitting in my closet. Yet, somehow, almost all the flashlights have disappeared and I am almost completely out of AA and D batteries, the two sizes I need for the few flashlights that didn’t mysteriously vanish into thin air. Keep a flashlight next to your bed at night and if you are going out and will be coming back after dark, take a flashlight with you. Unless you have lived through a blackout, you can’t possibly imagine just how dark it can get when there is no power anywhere in your neighborhood.
Lesson Number 3: Flashlights are probably not the only light sources you own. Put your kids to work and have them dig out all the munchkin sized flashlights they have gotten as prizes and those mini booklights they use to read under their blankets at night when they are supposedly fast asleep. A clip-on barbeque lamp has turned out to be the best birthday gift my sister-in-law has ever gotten my husband as it travels from room to room, particularly useful when you don’t want to shower in the dark, and a set of battery operated tea lights we bought as a decorative accent for my daughter’s vort five years ago were the perfect light source to illuminate both the stairs and the upstairs hallway.
Lesson Number 4: You can never have too many yahrtzeit candles in your house. While it is important to only light them on a non-flammable surface, far away from any flammable objects, and it goes without saying that candles are a serious hazard when there are small children around, yahrtzeit candles are easily moved, and with their flames generally confined inside their containers, are far safer than regular candles. Be warned that glass ones have been known to crack, with devastating results, so be sure to buy the metal ones.
Yishai is joined by Rabbi Shimshon Nadel in a busy Jerusalem restaurant to discuss Chanukah in Eretz Yisrael. Together they discuss reaching out to Jews worldwide from Israel during the holiday and also ways one can find the light of the menorah at year round. Don’t miss this insightful segment!