What We Can Learn from the Chanukia

Jews around the world are celebrating the holiday of Chanuka, the Festival of Lights. For most, the celebration is taking place in the winter, while for others, it is the middle of summer (in the Southern Hemisphere). But, no matter what the weather is like, the message that can be learned from the Chanukia (the “menorah”) is the same.

If you look in the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law), you will see numerous rules regarding the oil/candles of Chanuka. Where they are to be lit; how long they must burn; who lights them; the height of the lights and so on. In addition, we are told that the Chanukia itself may not be made of certain materials. However, when it comes to the Chanukia, that appears to be about all the rules we are given.   (Even the SHAPE of the Chanukia needing to be a straight line is not about the CHANUKIA as much as it is about the CANDLES needing to be in a straight line)

Did you ever wonder why the Rabbis made virtually no Halachot regarding the actual Chanukia? After all, it seems that there is no shortage of rules that COULD have been made regarding this religious object! Not only that, one does not even NEED a Chanukia–one can line up candles or oil lamps on a piece of aluminum foil!

The paucity of Halachot regarding the Chanukia provides us with a wonderful lesson.

The two components of the Mitzva of candle-lighting are the lights themselves (candles, oil, etc) and the base upon which they are placed (the Chanukia).

The oil represents the INNER beauty and the INNER soul of the individual (נר אלוקים נשמת אדם) . It represents פנימיות or the internal portion of the individual. THAT part of us, our essence, always needs to be perfected; it always needs to be guided by us and for us to make sure we pay proper attention to its growth. For that reason, the Halacha (rules) of the LIGHTS are so numerous. HOW we light; WHERE we light; with WHAT we light….all of those apply to our spiritual aspect as well. The “how, what, where” of our inner soul, our inner being and our service of G-d.

On the other hand, the Chanukia represents the EXTERNAL aspect of our lives. It represents the PHYSICAL aspects of our lives. It represents the NON-SPIRITUAL aspect of our lives. When it comes to that aspect and area of our lives, we need less and less and can/should be satisfied with less rather than more. For that reason, there are almost no Halachot regarding this physical representation of our lives.

The externals are of little value and importance. It is the INTERNALS that are most significant and that require the most work, the most attention.

And for this reason, and to stress this important point, the Rabbis instituted many Halachot regarding the OIL, which comes from the INSIDE of the olive. At the same time, the importance of the Chanukia–the symbol of the EXTERNAL–was downplayed, and we were given only a minimal about of Halachot in that regard.

Have a Happy Chanuka!

About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.