Did you know that according to Rambam, one who lacks the money to buy Chanukah lights should sell something, or if necessary, borrow candles, in order to light the candles and fulfill the mitzvah?
This Halacha highlights the importance of the Chanukah lights.
But what happens, if during Chanukah, on a Friday afternoon, only one candle is discovered? Here you have a choice – will you light the candle for Shabbat or for Chanukah? There is no law that states you must sell or borrow in order to light Shabbat candles.
When confronted with such a choice, despite the law, you must choose to light the Shabbat candle. (1)
Why is this?
In this context, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds us of the teaching that the entire Torah was given in order to make peace.
The Shabbat lights represent shalom bayit, or domestic peace.
Chanukah candles, among other things, symbolize the great, unlikely, and miraculous military victory over our foes. A public, grand, sweeping, victory.
As such, according to Rabbi Sacks, in Jewish thought, the light of peace takes precedence over the light of war.(2)
This is such a powerful notion.
Gestures of tenderness, empathetic listening, truly seeing your partner. This is why the Torah was given. This is why we are here.
It is not that the public realm of politics and conquest is not important. But as Jews, it’s not why we are here. We are here to cultivate harmony from within.
But it does not mean the lessons from the Chanukah candles are less instructive.
The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it appears both the Shabbat and the Chanukah candles, and what they represent, can be woven together seamlessly.
Being grateful for our partner and family. Recognition of everyday acts of generosity by those we love. Finding the balance between opposite energies. Fine tuning negotiation and compromise. Transcending the “I” for “We”. Private, holy, acts that lead to harmony. As we light the Shabbat candles we take part in building our personal oasis.
When we have laid a foundation of the Jewish home, perhaps then, we can master the outside world from a position of strength and fortitude.
Then, when dealing with the enemy in battle we will recognize the value of life and avoid unnecessary casualties.
Then, when we pursue a career, a goal, or a directive with a “warrior” mentality we will do so without stepping on others along the way.
Our public identity, our national accomplishments, triumphs of renown. Only when we solidify the fundamentals can we do them right.
Once established, we now can harness all that we have learned from the family unit, emboldened to make an impact on the greater world community, lighting the Chanukah candles with new found luminosity.
This is the light of peace and the light of war, working together.
Dedicated to and adapted from the work of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. His light illuminated so many. May his memory be a blessing.
1.Rambam, Hilchot Chanukah.
2.Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, 8 short thoughts for Chanukah Night, 25th November, 2013.