The festival of Chanukah celebrates two miracles – the military victory over the Syrian Greeks and that one small cruse of oil, good for one day, providing light for eight days. The miracle of the light, however, is the main focus and central theme of this festival.
Thus, according to halacha, when we light the candles in celebration of Chanukah we are prohibited from using their light for any tasks. We are commanded to simply look at the light. All year long we are looking at what we see in the light, but on Chanukah we are to focus solely on seeing the light itself.
What is so special about the light of Chanukah? What is the Chanukah menorah’s message for us in our personal lives? Why does the Rambam call Chanukah “the most beloved and precious mitzvah”?
The answer is that the Chanukah lights help us focus on who we really are. We are not our body suits but are part of God’s Endless Light. Chanukah lights are the symbol of the Divine spark of the human soul, as Shlomo HaMelech says in Mishlei, Ner Hashem nishmat adam – the candle of God is the soul of the human being.
The Mishnah in Avot teaches, “There are three crowns: The crown of Torah, the crown of Kehuna [priesthood] and the crown of Monarchy.” Corresponding to these three with which Israel was crowned, there were three crowns on the Temple vessels. The crown of Torah corresponds to the gold crown, which was set on the Ark of Testimony (containing the two Tablets). The crown of Kehuna corresponds to the incense altar, for only regarding the priests does it say, “They shall place incense in Your Presence, and consume sacrifices on Your altar” (Devarim 33:10). Finally, the crown of Monarchy corresponds to the table in the Sanctuary, for tables, which in biblical and later Hebrew can symbolize wealth and bounty (Psalm 23), may here be viewed as evoking the economic and political power of the state.
However, the Mishnah adds that there is yet another crown, “the crown of a good name,” which “surpasses them all.” This crown is not enumerated among the others. Rather, it is kept separate from them and stands on its own. To what does this crown correspond in the Temple?
The Maharal of Prague associates “the crown of a good name” with the fourth vessel of the Temple – the solid pure gold menorah. The menorah had no gold crown encompassing it. Neither was it made of acacia wood inlaid with gold like the three Temple vessels mentioned above. Rather, the whole menorah was like a pure gold crown, embellished with golden cups, knobs and flowers. The entire menorah itself is a crown.
It is the same with a person’s good name. It is not an external crown that is placed upon one’s head. A person’s good name touches on his very essence. A good name includes one’s entire personality in all its components. It is not an external image, fashioned by public relations professionals, photographers and newsmen. A person’s good name is the reputation he earns for himself through his life’s work, all his deeds and ventures. That is why the Mishnah says that the “crown of a good name surpasses all the others.”
A person’s good name does not find expression at the beginning of his life but is acquired through strenuous, daily toil. Shlomo HaMelech said “A good name is better than precious oil” (Kohelet 7:1). However good it may be, oil is applied externally to a person’s body while a good name is that person himself.
As we light the menorah on Chanukah, it is a time to focus and reflect on the light of God, which is our eternal soul.
Rabbi Ephraim S. Sprecher