Yakov Saacks

Listen to the flames – A Chanukah perspective

Rabbi Yakov Saacks
The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY.
Author of The Kabbalah of Life

Unless you live in Afghanistan or Iraq, you are keenly aware that this is the week of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. So many beautiful menorah candelabras in windows, malls, shops and even sports arenas. Chanukah lasts for eight days and nights. On the first night one candle is lit, and an additional candle is added every night. The menorah is complete on the eighth night as all eight of the candles are now lit.


The fact that we add a candle each night seems elementary to us, but it was not always so. There were some, back in the day, who lit eight candles the first night and then decreased a light each successive night. Ergo, on the last night, there was just one simple flame.

The difference of opinion of adding vs. subtracting was not arbitrary, but rather due to a difference in outlook. The school of thought for those who decreased the light each night was that time is fleeting and we need to recognize that the days are short and there is much to do, and time waits for no one. Those who increased the amount of light each night were of the opinion that we need to increase light, holiness and motivation, and not, God forbid, decrease. A census was taken and the latter view became the common practice. Fascinating, no?

There are so many messages that the lights of the Chanukah menorah represent. The following is a short synopsis of the eight nights.


The menorah must be lit after dark. If one lit the menorah before dark, it would need enough wax or oil to last into the nighttime. As we know, light is only needed in darkness. It is obvious that there is no reason to hold a flashlight outside in the middle of the day. The flashlight is effective when there is no light. The first flame teaches us that a little light dispels and literally banishes darkness.

Just one solitary flame represents that though it is a small flame, it has a powerful impact. Similarly, a simple smile can be so helpful to someone who is having a rough day. Hold the door open for someone else. Not a difficult thing to do but speaks volumes.


Adding a candle is another life lesson. We must not be happy with the status quo. Each day we need to grow in all aspects. If we accomplished much yesterday, this does not allow one to shirk today’s new responsibility. In fact, Judaism teaches that if one does not grow emotionally and mentally, then they are actually sliding backwards.


There were three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Why not two?  Why not four? The reason we are taught is that each patriarch represents something that is fundamental to our existence. Abraham was generous and charitable. Isaac recognized that prayer to God is an essential part of being a human, and Jacob embodies the idea that we need to pursue knowledge, and not remain ignorant. We need all three to succeed. We cannot simply just focus on one of the attributes as this is not considered a balanced life.


There were four matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Each one of them teaches us something powerful. Sarah was attuned to her child’s physical and spiritual wellbeing. In fact, the Torah testifies that during a parenting argument between the couple, God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah. A mom is way more in tune than her counterpart.

Rebecca understood that each of her twin boys were vastly different. Just because they were brought up in the same household does not make them the same. A great parenting lesson.

Rachel protected her sister Leah’s dignity even though she had a lot to lose. Life is not only about you; it takes a village, and a little altruism goes a long way.

Lastly, Leah taught us the lesson of perseverance, and to never give up. Despite a dark future, it all worked out for the best. We must never give up.


Five fingers make up a hand. Every finger may be a different size, however, all five fingers function together as a unit and there is complete harmony between them. We are all created in God’s image. We may look different and have different views and cultures, but we must work together to lend a hand.


On the sixth day, after the very long and arduous creative process, God created man. He was created last after beasts, fowls, insects, water, air and flora. This teaches that man must be humble, as even a small gnat came before him. Alternatively, man is now responsible for planet earth which was handed to him on a silver platter.


The seventh day is the Sabbath, the day of rest. This is the day not just to sleep in and relax the body, it is also designed to soothe the soul with added prayers and enriched family time. Taking a break from the office is not only healthy, it is a powerful lesson that your business will not be negatively affected if you take the Sabbath off. Let go and let God. The break from the rat race allows us to reevaluate our priorities. One should ask themselves the following: Am I running my work, or is my work running me?


The number eight when placed on its side is the infinity sign ∞. This is because the number eight is transcendental. The creation took seven days which is the natural process. The number eight however, is above and beyond creation. This is why we circumcise a baby on the eighth day. The word bris means bond and a bond is something that is above and beyond a simple promise or agreement. We must realize that we are not simply material beings with physical needs and desires. We are also souls. We are transcendental. We are holy and Godly. Our souls are infinite.


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About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.