Candlewatching: Things To Think About

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אין לנו רשות...אלא לראותם בלבד

Chanuka is here! Granted, the bakeries and grocery stores have been selling Sufganyot since Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan. But walking outside and seeing tiny flames dancing outside every door lends a special atmosphere to the week.

In general, we do a great job learning new information. Our schedules are full of exploring new subjects, getting deeper into a Sugya, and Chazering things we've already learned. For actual growth, and for the things we're learning to really have an impact, we have to make time to reflect and think about the concepts we're learning about. Chanuka has a built-in opportunity for this to happen, as well as many related themes to reflect on. There's a well-known practice to take some time after lighting to just sit and look at your candles.

This Chanuka, use that time to think about one of the ideas below. Discuss your thoughts with friends. This will help you actually process and grow from the ideas Chazal wanted us to think about over the course of Chanuka, as expressed by the Halachos governing the Mitzvos they instituted.

    Pirsumei Nisa

    While we're generally encouraged to maintain our privacy and not make a big show out of our Mitzvos, Chanuka demands just the opposite. In order to be Yotzei, someone else must see your candles burning! In the right contexts, we should learn to be proud of the things that make us noticeably Jewish, rather than embarrassed - leave the baseball hat in the car, and leave the phone in your pocket when davening Mincha next vacation.

  • Am I proud to show off my Jewishness to the world?
  • Am I proud to show off my Orthodoxy to the world? (In a positive way, not a T4/showing-off way)

  • Neis Pach Shemen

    Undoubtedly, the Chashmonaim winning the war was definitely surprising. However, there was nothing explicitly miraculous about it. Stranger things have happened; military strategists might talk about the advantages of guerrilla warfare and knowing the lay of the land, a type of home-court advantage. Hashem giving us the miracle of the Pach Shemen was a clear signal that He was involved; the war was not a fluke, but a feature of Divine Providence. We were Zoche to the miracle because we aimed high, twice: by started the war in the first place, and then by even bothering to light with the Tahor oil, rather than settling with the Tamei oil.

  • What are some small ways Hashem shows himself in my life?
  • What's a goal I can start working towards, even if it seems too lofty to actually reach?

  • Mehadrin

    Chanuka is the only area of Halacha where the concept of Mehadrin Min HaMehadrin even exists. Not only that, but it's considered normative practice - when was the last time you heard of someone lighting only one candle each night? The Ohr Same'ach even thinks that the Rambam holds a poor person must sell the clothes off his back not just for a single candle, but for enough candles to fulfill even the Din of Mehadrin. Rav Micha'el Rosensweig explains this, as well as many other Chanuka-related anomalies, as representing the need for spiritual maximalism. Many things the Chashmonaim did weren't strictly necessary; Hashem responding with the Neis Pach Shemen clearly displayed His approval of their actions.

  • What's an area where I can push myself in, even though it's not strictly necessary?
  • Do I see Mitzvot as boxes to check, or opportunities to contribute to a relationship?

  • Misyavnim

    According to the Sefer HaMaccabim, the first person killed when the Chashmonaim decided to revolt was a Jew who had abandoned his heritage and had chosen to identify as a Greek - one of the Misyavnim. The Chashmonaim were fighting not only the Greek soldiers, but members of their own community, from every strata of society, who had decided to give up their Judaism for the values of the host culture. While it sounds like a crazy question, take a moment to think: Based on our values and identies, are we Chashmonaim, or Misyavnim?

  • Where do my values come from?
  • Can I identify a value, practice or perspective which I recognize as coming from outside of Judaism?
  • Am I all-in for Torah, or trying to figure out how to balance being Jewish and American at the same time?

  • Ner Ish U’Beiso

    One of the most unique elements of lighting Menora is that the Mitzva is mainly on the house, not the inhabitants: technically, just one Menora is enough for every member of the family. Rav Samson Rephael Hirsch points out that the main force behind the Jewish rebellion came from one family: the Chashmonaim. As long as even just one family can "keep the flame burning" and remain committed to Hashem, there remains the potential for that fire to spread and re-inspire the entire nation. Chanuka celebrates and reinforces the importance of each family doing their best to stand strong and stay committed to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

  • What can I do to strengthen my relationship with my family?
  • How can I prepare myself to lead a family which will spread the recognition of Hashgachas Hashem through the world?

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