I get lots of questions around Hanukkah time. Last week at services, someone asked whether, when we put the Hanukkah menorah in the window, the positioning of the candles be determined by how they appear from outside or inside the house. It’s a good question.
Over the centuries there have been rabbinic debates as to whether the hanukkiah should be lit inside the house at all, or should it stay outside all the time. The consensus is that for security purposes as well as the winter weather, which can be nasty even in Israel at this time, it’s best to keep it inside. But I think it should be, regardless.
We place the candles in from right to left and light them from left to right. Once those candles are lit, what’s important is what they look like from the perspective of those who are sure to be looking at them – and that means us. If others are looking at them too, on the other side of the window, wonderful. But before publicizing the miracle to the world, let’s make sure we’ve publicized it to ourselves. If others see it, so be it. From my house, if someone sees my candles from the outside, they’ve either got telescopic vision or antlers. Or they are at the cemetery – and as the Psalm says, “The dead do not praise You.” Let’s take care of business inside our homes first. Judaism should be first and foremost a private affair.
We spend too much time wondering about what others think of us. We worry too much about our public image, wearing our religion on our sleeves and rarely letting it penetrate the heart.
Back at the beginning of the Enlightenment, the talk was that newly emancipated Jews should be “Jews at home and human beings on the street.” The idea was to hide one’s Jewishness, reserving it for the private realm, and to appear just like everyone else in public.
But now the situation has been reversed. For so many, our Jewish identities revolve around our organizational affiliations, our meetings and lunches, our postings and proclamations, rather than our inner lives. So while it is good to proclaim the miracle for the world and to show pride in who we are, the flames of the Hanukkah candles mean nothing if they don’t ignite a spark in each of our souls.