First We Light, then We Enlighten

13 Dec

It is a curious custom our lighting of the Chanukah candles these eight days. The rabbis discuss in great detail questions associated with how many candles to light, when to light, where to light, how to light, what to light….though we have more or less come to a universally accepted practice, there seems to have been a multiplicity of opinions along the way, and each opinion was on its own substantiated with insightful explanation.

I wish here to bring attention to the curious way that this popular observance is accompanied by not one, but two blessings (and three on the first night, but that’s for another discussion). Here they are:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has commanded us in the lighting of the Chanukah candles.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who did miracles for our ancestors, in those days, at this season.

Why two blessings?

For those who are in the practice of lighting candles on the eve of Shabbat and the holidays, you know that one blessing suffices. In fact, in the performance of most mitzvot, one blessing is all that is warranted.

So what’s so special about Chanukah candles?

Interesting that the only other place we say this second blessing is prior to the reading of the Megillah on Purim – and there too, it is the second blessing, following the blessing upon being commanded to read the Megillah itself. Actually, this seems to provide a clue to our mystery.

You see, when we light the candles, it is not clear at all as to the purpose. In fact, the lighting is somewhat counter-intuitive since we light candles in the dark and make a big deal about NOT using the light for any purpose…the candles are actually to be seen, but the light is not to be used. Very strange.

Therefore, it is important that we not only light, but enlighten as well – that we not only perform the act, but perform the act in a clear context –”We light these candles as a remembrance of the miracles wrought for us.” Similarly, the story of the Book of Esther read on Purim is a fine, entertaining story – with no mention of God. Therefore, to give it a context, we preface its reading with acknowledgement of the miracles wrought by God, for our ancestors, in the story we are about to read.

My take-home message this Chanukah is just this: to be a “light unto the nations” we can never be satisfied with doing the right thing. In conjunction with doing the right thing, we are obligated to articulate the context as to why what we are doing what we are doing, and most importantly, why it is that what we are doing is in the best interests of humankind.

Whether it is racing to bring the highest medical technology to Haiti, bringing agricultural solutions to neglected far-flung areas of Africa, or dropping thousands of leaflets over Gaza to do what we can to protect innocent lives, it is incumbent upon us to always accompany our actions with explanation and commentary that will serve to give context to our actions, that will bespeak our national calling to make the world a better place for all of its inhabitants whenever possible.

The light of Israel will shine brightest when our actions are accompanied by running commentary that enlightens those who would otherwise misunderstand us.


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