I offer these words from a variety of sources for this season of Hanukah and am grateful to the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem for providing them. I offer my own blessings to be said before the kindling of the Hanukah lights on each night, beginning this next Tuesday evening – the first night of Hanukah.
“The glory and the educational value of the Hasmoneans is that their example revived the nation to be its own redeemer and the determiner of its own future…”
-Yitzhak Ben Zvi, 2nd President of the State of Israel
“The Hanukah lights reflect the fire within the Jewish soul, as it is written, The soul of a human being is the lamp of God.’ (Proverbs 20:27) Each person possesses this light within his body. Hanukah teaches how this light must be ignited, …renewed and increased each day. Projecting light to the world at large is the underlying intent of all the mitzvot, as it is written, ‘A mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light.’ (Proverbs 6:23) However, to a greater degree than in other mitzvot, this intent is reflected in the Hanukkah candles, for they produce visible light and they spread that light throughout their surroundings.”
-Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
“When reading the contemporary accounts of the Hasmonean Revolution found in the Books of the Maccabees (c. 165 BCE), the rabbis of later centuries made the observance of the commandment of “pirsum hanes – the public proclamation of this miracle” the centerpiece of the festival thereby emphasizing that the power of the spirit is enduring and not weapons of war, high finance and politics.”
-Professor Shimon Rawidowicz
“Just as the light of a lamp remains undimmed, though myriads of wicks and flames may be lit from it, so the one who gives to a worthy cause does not make a hole in his/her own pocket.”
-Midrash Exodus Rabbah 36:3
The Talmud tells of a great debate about how to light the Hanukiah. Do we start with eight and diminish until the last night. Or do we start with one and build to the eighth night. Beit Hillel says the latter. Beit Shammai says the former. The halacha (Jewish law) follows Beit Hillel. In other words, each day we build on what has taken place. Each day we add light. Each day we are strengthened in resolve, goodness. Each day we draw closer to God. [The custom is to line up the candles from the right to the left, but to light them from the left to the right – the current day first.]
-Bavli, Shabbat 21b
The Midrash compares a mitzvah to a lamp. The increasing light kindled on Hanukah reminds us that we are not diminished when we give of ourselves to others. The opposite is true. By our kind deeds we increase light and sparks of Divinity into the world.
Suggested Blessings to Say Before Kindling the Lights of Hanukah
FIRST CANDLE: THE LIGHT OF TORAH AND BLESSING
With this candle we reaffirm our people’s commitment to the study of our sacred tradition. May the light of this flame cast its warmth and inspire us to be grateful for the blessings of life and health.
SECOND CANDLE: THE LIGHT OF LIBERATION AND HOPE
On behalf of our people dispersed in the four corners of the world who live in fear, repression and imprisonment, we stand this night in solidarity with them. Our Hanukkah flames are theirs and their hopes are ours. We are one people united by tradition, history and faith in the one God who inspires freedom and liberation.
THIRD CANDLE: THE LIGHT OF PEACE AND MEMORY
With this candle we pray that a just and lasting peace may be established between Israel and the Palestinians, between Israel and all Arab and Muslim peoples. May the memory of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and those who gave their lives for peace be a blessing for our people and all peoples of the Middle East.
FOURTH CANDLE: THE LIGHT OF TOLERANCE
With this light we pray that racism, political enmity, gender bias, homophobia, religious hatred, intolerance, and fundamentalist extremism be dispelled, and may all people recognize divinity within all of God’s children.
FIFTH CANDLE: THE LIGHT OF ECONOMIC JUSTICE
With this light we recommit ourselves to work on behalf of the poor in our communities and throughout the world. May we be inspired not only to feed the hungry and lift the fallen, but to reorder society’s priorities and educate all children to be able to sustain themselves with dignity and hope.
SIXTH CANDLE: THE LIGHT OF CREATION
With this light may our commitment be renewed to preserve God’s creation, for as the Midrash reminds us, if we destroy it there will come no one after us to make it right.
SEVENTH CANDLE: THE LIGHT OF BLESSING
May the light of this flame cast its warmth upon us and inspire us to be ever grateful for the blessings of life, family, community, and health.
EIGHTH CANDLE: THE LIGHT OF MEMORY AND WITNESSING
May these lights inspire us always to care, love, and perform deeds of loving-kindness to others. Amen!