Yitzchak Ginsburgh
Head of Gal Einai Institutes, authority on Kabbalah and Chassidut

Chanukah: The Secret of Light and Warmth


The beloved mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights is defined in Jewish law as “a candle for each person and his home”. Lighting the Chanukah candles is a family, home mitzvah. The purpose of lighting the candles, however, is to publicize the miracle of Chanukah – to herald the miracles that God performed for our ancestors “in those days and in our time” to those passing by outside. On Chanukah, the whole family gathers around the candles, the room is aglow, the atmosphere is warm and the light and warmth of the candles spreads to the dark, cold street outside.

Light in the Eyes and Warmth in the Heart

The founder of the Chassidic movement, the Ba’al Shem Tov, is known to have loved light. Every place that he would go, he would request that candles be kindled in order to add light. Clearly, the holiday of Chanukah, when we add an additional candle every day, was very beloved to him.

The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that the numerical value of the word for ‘light’ in Hebrew – ‘or’ – is 207, identical to the Hebrew word for ‘secret’ – ‘raz’. He explained that when a person knows the raz/secret of another individual, he can shine his light upon him. Befittingly, the number 207 is also the numerical value of ein sof, ‘infinity’. The secret in the heart of every person is the infinite, as yet unfulfilled potential concealed within him. The light rectifies our eyes so that we can see this concealed secret in others, illuminate them, open their eyes to their infinite potential and guide them to make good use of their strengths.

While light appears in the eyes and reveals concealed potential, warmth appears in the heart. When a small child would meet the Ba’al Shem Tov, he would place his hand over the child’s heart and bless him to be “a warm Jew”.

What is warmth of the heart? The primary emotion of the heart is love. A warm heart is a heart full of warm love. The first, main love is the fulfillment of the Torah directive, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. That love and warmth flows out to all G-d’s creations, conscious that the very fact that God created something testifies to His love for it. And if God loves it, I also have to love it. Warmth and love can defrost the partitions between us and even melt what has frozen into negative forms and modes of behavior.

The Righteous and the Heroes

The Chanukah candles, which kindle light in the eyes and warmth in the heart, symbolize exemplary personalities in the Nation of Israel. When we contemplate the candles, we should listen to the silent stories that they tell us and connect through them to these personalities – personalities that illuminate our eyes and warm our hearts.

On Chanukah we light 36 candles. (1 plus 2 plus 3 plus 4 plus 5 plus 6 plus 7 plus 8 = 36). 36 is the number of tzaddikim, consummately righteous souls, in every generation. It is said about these 36 tzaddikim that they see the countenance of the Shechinah every day. The tzaddikim, Torah scholars, are also called “the eyes of the congregation” because with their clear vision they see the internal secret of reality (the Shechinah that dwells in every place) and are able to guide us on the path of truth.

Connecting to the tzaddikim about whom the candles are telling us, kindles light in the eyes. But in order to act correctly in reality and deal with its difficulties, we also need warmth of the heart. In the Book of Formation, man’s heart is described as “a king of war”. Maimonides calls the king “the heart of Israel”. The tzaddikim clearly see the inner secret, the direction that needs to be taken and the good that will be in the future. But the king-leader is able to inject courage and fortitude into the heart in order to melt the difficulties and obstacles of reality. The heart’s warm love for the future objective, perceived with the light of the eyes, is translated into courage and the strength to actualize our goals.

Fittingly, when the Bible recounts the names of the courageous fighters of King David’s army, we find exactly 36 names. King David is one of those names. He invests the other fighters with the spirit of might. With their warmth, the 36 candles tell us the story of the 36 fighters of our own generation, providing us with the courage to march upon the correct, illuminated path.

The Two Miracles of Chanukah

On Chanukah, we highlight two miracles with prayers of praise and thanks to God and with the lighting of the Chanukah candles. The “Al Hanisim” prayer that we recite is mostly about the miracle of the victory in the war of the Hasmoneans against the Greeks. By contrast, the lighting of the Chanukah candles is in order to re-live the miracle of the flask of oil, which made it possible to kindle the menorah in the Temple with pure oil for eight days. Both these miracles are a distinct source for the light of the eyes and the warmth of the heart that we described above:

The miracle of the flask of oil is clearly the miracle of light, for its objective was the kindling of the menorah in the Temple, which radiates its light to the entire world. This miracle illustrates how the light of the Chanukah candles is the revelation of the inner, concealed secret. The flask of oil, itself, is sealed and impenetrable, “sealed with the seal of the High Priest”. It remained concealed from the eyes of the Greeks, who defiled all the other oil in the Temple. The miracle in which oil that is sufficient for one day continues to burn for eight days exemplifies how the potential concealed within is above and beyond what we can see by just looking at the surface. In Kabbalah, the number eight symbolizes infinity. Seven is the number of the days of the week, defined, limited time. Eight days expresses the breakthrough – through the limitation of time, and determined advance toward the infinite. The light (or  207) of the menorah reveals the inner secret (raz 207) of the oil and its ability to illuminate for eternity (ein sof, 207).

The miracle of the triumph over the Greeks is a miracle of the warmth of the heart, expressing inner fortitude to deal with reality and illuminate it, even when difficulties arise. In their war of the weak and few against the strong multitude, the Hasmoneans had to enlist the warmth of their hearts, which burned with love of G-d, love of Torah, love of Israel and love of the Land of Israel. Beyond the might of war, the miracle of the triumph is a ‘kingly’ miracle that allowed for the establishment of new, independent leadership for the Nation of Israel in its Land.

These two factors are also expressed in the unique character of Matityahu the High Priest and his sons. They are Kohanim, tzaddikim whose role is to teach Torah to the Nation. On the other hand, the Hasmoneans demonstrated strength and courage in the war. A beautiful allusion to this synthesis is that when we combine the numerical value of tzaddik (204) and gibor (strong fighter, 211) we receive Hasmonean (415)!

From Light to Warmth

Every time that we light a candle, there is the simultaneous appearance of light and warmth. Chanukah includes them both. With the addition of each daily candle, we are adding more light and more warmth. But while each candle remains an entity unto itself, the warmth of the candles is generated by the collective of all the candles together. When one candle is lit, we mostly notice the new light. But when we light many candles, we begin to feel their warmth. While Chanukah begins in the month of Kislev, it ends in the coldest month of the winter, Tevet, when we must generate much heat. In other words, we must take the light of Kislev and transform it into the heat needed in the month of Tevet.

What is the meaning of this process in our service of God? We must produce much light in our eyes, learn much Torah, connect to the tzaddikim, who are “they eyes of the congregation” and merit a clear view of reality. But we cannot suffice ourselves with intellectual clarity and not even with eyes that reveal the secrets of reality in order to relate to it positively. In order to precipitate real change in our personal lives and to rectify all of reality, we must internalize the illuminating gaze into our hearts, fill ourselves with warm love for the optimistic vision that is revealed to our eyes and act with courage and might to change reality.

About the Author
Rabbi Ginsburgh was born in S. Louis, Missouri in 1944. He initially pursued an academic career in mathematics and philosophy, later studying Torah under the guidance of several great sages–most notably, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Ginsburgh made Aliyah to Israel in 1965. His familiarity with mathematics, science, philosophy, psychology and music has enabled him to lecture throughout Israel, relating the ancient wisdom of Torah to many currents trends in academic thought and art.
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