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On Chanukah Lighting
By Larry Howard
In the voluminous literature of the codes of Jewish law, many interesting insights are to be found, not just in legalistic rulings, but rather insights into proper personal behavior. One such insight can be found in the laws and customs of Chanukah.
In the times of the Temple, the basic custom of Chanukah was that the head of the house would light one special candle in honor of Chanukah. On the first night, they would light only one candle, on the next night also one candle, and so on through out the days of the festival, one candle per night. That was considered the basic minimum to properly observe the custom lighting the Chanukah menora.
Those who wished to be more elegant and observant, would light one candle each night for each member of their household. If, for example, there were 5 people in the household, on the first night of Chanukah, the head of the house would light five candles. On the second night, he would also light five candles. So too, on the third, fourth and subsequent nights, the head of the household would light five candles, as per the number of persons in his household.
In addition to this, those who desired to observe Chanukah in the most elegant and praiseworthy fashion would do something different. They would light one candle on the first night, two candles on the second night, three candles on the third night, etc, just as we do today. This is considered the most elegant form of observing Chanukah. Why? Because a person who is passing the window from the outside can deduce which night it is just by counting the candles.
Going further into Jewish customs, it is written that if a person should be in a place where he has only enough candles for himself to light in the most elegant and praiseworthy form; such as he has only four candles and it is the fourth night, yet his Jewish friend does not have any candles, he is instructed that it is better to give his friend a candle. This means that he will light only one candle - he reverts back to the basic law, one candle per household per night. His friend also will only light one candle for the night, like the basic law.
Now it may be said that he is not observing Chanukah in its most elegant and praiseworthy form, since he is only lighting one candle on the fourth night. Yet, the opposite is true! By sharing his candle with his less fortunate Jewish brother, and at the seeming expense of being less than praise worthy in his Chanukah observance, he has actually fulfilled his mitzvah in a manner that is even more elegant and praise worthy than could have been achieved by lighting enough candles to signify which night of Chanukah we are celebrating. He has helped light a Jewish soul. This is the most perfect manner of performing any mitzvah - helping a fellow Jew, even at the expense of our own personal self gain.
This is the insight from the volumes of Jewish laws and customs. Helping a fellow Jew, is the most beautiful and elegant mitzvah. To help a Jew, even when one may suffer a small loss is the price one pays to have his deed rise up to the highest level in heaven. May we all merit to be amongst those who are on the side of the helping, even at a modest expense, than to be amongst those who receive help, even with a modest gain.
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