By Rabbi Aaron Benson
Hanukkah candles need to burn for at least thirty minutes. The Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, involves lighting a candle for each of the holidays eight nights.
Of course the candles can burn longer than that, but the ancient sages determined such a length of time would be enough to make the lighting significant and yet not overly costly at a time when candles would have been more expensive and essential than today.
The lights remind us of a miracle performed for the ancient Jews. Having thrown off the yoke of foreign rule, they came to rededicate the despoiled Temple in Jerusalem. There they found only enough oil to light the Temple menorah for a day, but the oil miraculously last eight days. During that time the Jews were able to prepare more oil.
Yet we light for only thirty minutes. We illuminate the long winter night for the briefest of intervals. It seems inadequate but we not only do it once, but over and over for more than a week. And this is enough to celebrate a holiday about miracles.
Sometimes in life we may only be able to “light up the dark” temporarily to help that friend or family member or ourselves just a little. Should we refrain from doing so just because we can’t fix it all? Certainly not! Over and over we must keep doing what we can, even if it might be just a little, to bring some good, to cause a miracle to take place.
During the thirty minutes the Hanukkah candles burn each night, and during all this winter season, let us do our part, whether large or small, to aid those lost in the night and light the way for them.
The author is the rabbi of North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station.
Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, 68 Hauppauge Road, Commack will host a holiday-themed Festival of Lights drive-thru light display on its campus on Monday, Dec. 14 and Tuesday, Dec. 15, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
The display will feature thousands of blue, gold and white lights arranged in a variety of scenes and include inflatable menorahs, dreidels and other holiday fun. Guests will be able to tune their car radio to a special FM station (107.7 FM) for a musical accompaniment to the visual experience.
“The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, and we wanted to provide some cheer and a thank you to the communities that have helped our residents and honored our healthcare heroes this year,” said Stuart B. Almer, President & CEO of Gurwin Healthcare System.
Guests are urged to brighten the season for nursing home residents by bringing donations of unwrapped gifts including puzzle books and pens, fuzzy holiday socks and other personal gifts.
The event is made possible by the generosity of sponsors, including Ambulnz (Presenting Sponsor), Advantage Title Agency, Inc., Gensler Cona Elder Law, Huntington Hospital Northwell Health, Setton International Farms, Unidine, Austin Williams and Jackson Lewis, PC.
The display is free of charge and no reservations are needed. For more information call 631-715-2563. Posts on social media can use the hashtag #GurwinLights.
By Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
When I was growing up, Hanukkah was literally a “festival of many lights!” As the oldest of six children, my parents gave each one of us our own chanukiyah. (Note: A menorah is any multibranched candelabra. A chanukiyah is a menorah specifically designated for Hanukkah. It has nine candle holders: one for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, plus one for the “shammash” — the helper candle that is used to light the other candles.)
Every morning during Hanukkah, each of us would carefully choose which color candles we were going to light that night. My mother placed a table in front of one of our living room windows with all of the chanukiyot (plural form of chanukiyah) circled strategically around. The mitzvah — the commandment — of Hanukkah is to publicize the miracle. Hence the directive to light the candles in a window. My siblings and I loved watching all those candles burn and glow!
I have a collection of many beautiful and unique chanukiyot now. But the one I still use every year on Hanukkah is the one I used growing up, the one I inherited from my mother. It is not beautiful, but it takes me back to my childhood, it reminds me of my mother and helps make me feel as if she is part of my Hanukkah celebration, even though she is no longer alive. That feeling helps the flame of my candles glow even more brightly.
It is no accident that Hanukkah, our festival of lights, occurs during December. These are some of the darkest days/nights of the year: We are approaching the winter solstice. Once again, Hanukkah reminds us that during the darkest time of the year, we human beings have the power to kindle lights against the darkness. We have the power to brighten the lives of others.
For those who celebrate Hanukkah, let me suggest that we can make the flames of our own Hanukkah candles burn even more brightly by dedicating at least one of the nights of our own Hanukkah celebration to a family tzedakah (social justice/charity) project instead of giving gifts to each other. The word tzedakah comes from the root tzedek — which means “justice” and “righteousness.” We don’t simply give tzedakah because it makes us feel good, but rather out of our sense of responsibility to God and to taking care of others in the world around us.
There are a number of different provisions for tzedakah outlined in the Jewish tradition. They all center around one basic principle: No matter what form our tzedakah takes, we must make sure that we never compromise anyone’s dignity, honor or self-respect. In fact, the highest form of tzedakah is when we can help someone to help themselves, so that they will no longer be dependent upon the help of others.
This year, may the light of the Hanukkah candles ignite the spark of justice, passion for human rights and freedom for all.
Chag Urim Sameach! May you have a Happy Festival of Lights!
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel is the Rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook.