The Menorah and the Mezuzah
By Avi Lazerson
According to the Talmud, the proper place for the Chanukah Menorah is not inside the house on the table, but outside of our house. The sages of the Talmud specifically fixed the positioning of the menorah to be placed outside the door of the house, on the left side of the doorjamb in a low position. This is on the side opposite of the Mezuzah, which is on the right side. The mezuzah is to be fixed high on the doorjamb, and the menorah placed in a position lower down to the ground.
The reason that it is to be placed in a manner close to the ground was to show that this light was not set in this place for its light, but to publicize the miracle of Chanukah. In this manner, they explained, that when one enters the house they would be surrounded by Mitzvot.
However, the situations changed and it became dangerous to put the menorah outside of the house due to the various hostile peoples amongst whom they dwelt, so the positioning of the menorah was changed. Hence our modern custom of bringing it in the house and placing it on the table.
The rational, the sages explained, for putting the menorah outside, was "persumai neissah", meaning there was an obligation to publicize the miracle that
G-d did for us amongst our neighbors. Hence, the setting of the menorah outside so that people who pass by would see the candles burning and realize, that this is our remembrance of the miracle that G-d did for us, hence the miracle of Chanukah will be publicized throughout the neighborhood.
As we mentioned, only because of the danger inherent in lands in which we Jews dwelt did the custom change and we brought the menorah inside of our house. The rabbis explained that the publicizing of the miracle would now only be for the inhabitants of the house. In Israel today, the custom is returning and many people have begun to light the menorah outside again reviving the ancient custom that existed when we were autonomous and did not fear our neighbors.
One of the various interesting insights in to the reasoning for the menorah on the left is based on the mystical Hassidic teachings. The right and left signify different mystical powers. The right is representative of the power of "Chesed", whereas the left is "Gevurah". Chessed is the power of giving in the form of kindness, whereas Gevurah is the attribute of strength and severity.
This draws down G-d's protection into our house. Like a soldier standing outside protecting the dwellers of the house, so too, the mezuzah draws down G-d's protection on our house. We sleep in our house, and G-d watches over us. This is the kindness that G-d does for us.
The menorah testifies to G-d's strength. As is known, Chanukah is the time that the Jews began an uprising against the Greeks. The Greeks were the world's dominating power. They tried to impose their beliefs upon the Jews. Whereas they enjoyed temporary success, the small rebellion as started by Mattisyahu and his sons enjoyed local support. After a long and bitter battle, the Greeks were ousted from the land of Israel and their Jewish traitors, the Hellenists, were killed and the proper offerings were brought back into the Temple.
After the miracle of Chanukah we Jews were able to enjoy our autonomous life in the Land of Israel for several hundred more years. Hence the custom of "persumai neissah", the publicizing of the miracle by placing the menorah outside the door. When people would walk by and see the candle burning in a place that has no need to be lit in this manner, they would realize that this is an expression of the householder's desire to express his thanks to G-d. This also shows the unbelieving world, that G-d has the power to do miracles for his children, the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
This is the right and the left sides. G-d watches over Israel, the mezuzah on the right, and G-d fights the battles of Israel, the menorah on the left. However, today, we can see quite clearly the hand of G-d in our national Jewish life. The resurgence of the Jewish life in the Land of Israel, is a phenomena that has not been seen for almost two thousand years. Hence, the resurrection of the custom of placing the menorah outside, to show the world that G-d is still active in our lives, in our world, in our day and age.
Perhaps it is a good time for you to begin to light the menorah outside. The world needs to realize the power of G-d in the world and His active running of the world. More people lighting the candles outside can do this.
from the November 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine