By Nachum Mohl
We proclaim to the world the great miracle that G-d did for us by lighting the candles in a conspicuous place that it be visible to all. In years gone by, when we still dwelt in the land of Israel during the time of the Temple, candles were lit outside to proclaim the miracle to all who passed by. However after our long exile, it became dangerous to light candles outside and so we brought them into our house. Today when it is not dangerous to light outside, the customs of where to light vary from place to place and from person to person. In Israel, the general custom is to light outside by the outside door, although there are exceptions. Outside of Israel, the custom is to light inside; some light by the window that faces the public way and others put the menorah on the table in full view of the family. At one time it was the custom to put it by the door opposite the mezuzah and there remain some who still follow this custom.
Since the miracle in the Temple was done though olive oil, therefore olive oil is the preferred oil for lighting in our menorahs; however, all oils are permissible as long as it give a clear flame. Wax candles are also acceptable, since their light is also clear. Be careful not to get two wicks or candles too close together because the light should not look like a torch.
The menorah may be of any material, but unglazed clay is considered repulsive since once it is used for oil, it absorbs the oil. It is best to get a menorah that is beautiful and many use silver menorahs. Using an attractive menorah enhances the beauty of the mitzvah.
The lights should be placed in a straight even line; one candle should not be higher than the next. There should be sufficient space between the lights so that the flames do not touch each other thereby resembling a torch.
The custom is that each male in the household lights his own menorah. They should not should be put in close proximity to one another so that an observer should not think that the wrong number of lights were lit. If there is no male in the house that can light the candles, since the women are obligated in the mitzvah also, therefore the women should light. This is often the case when the man is out of town or unable to be home in time for lighting the candles while the children are still awake. Normally the woman lights the Shabbat candles and the man lights the Chanukah candles.
The time to light the Chanukah candles is right when the night begins, since a candle in the day is not readily seen. The candles should burn for at least thirty minutes into the night. On Friday afternoon, the Chanukah candles are lit immediately before the Shabbat candles; they should burn for at least thirty minutes after the night has begun. On Saturday night, the Chanukah candles are lit after the Havdalah ceremony.
The order of lighting the candles is as follows: On the first night, the candle to be lit is placed on the right side opposite the right hand. On the second evening, an additional candle is placed on the left next to the first one. The new candle is lit first and then the 'older' one. In this manner additional candles are added from the right going left, but the lighting is from the left going to the right.
Since the candles are being used for a mitzvah, we are not allowed to use them for any other purpose. We cannot use them to read or even count our money. This applies for the first thirty minutes. However, if we have another candle close to the menorah, we may use the light since we can say that we are deriving benefit from the extra candle. This is the source of having a 'shamash', an extra candle on the menorah, which sits either higher or in a different line than the Chanukah candles. With this 'shamash' we both light the Chanukah candles and use it to provide light by which we may read.
For more articles on Chanukah, see our Chanukah archives
from the December 2007 Chanukah Edition of the Jewish Magazine