Have you heard that Chanukah came early this year? Not exactly…as usual, Chanukah is right on time, the 25th of Kislev. So when do we light the Chanukkiah?
In the laws of Chanukah, Maimonides discusses the time that one should light the candles: Do not light before the sun sets, as it is too early. But if you forget to light at sunset, you can still light until the pedestrians leave the marketplace. What are the Rabbis trying to teach us?
The mitzvah is pirsumei nisa, the publicizing of the miracle. It is less for us and more for those peeking in our windows, and for those walking by our stores and homes. In fact, if one lights the candles, and the pedestrians have left the marketplace, one can even extinguish the candle or take it away, for there are no longer people to witness the mitzvah. We must have the opportunity to show the entire world that light shines through darkness, and this idea emanates from our homes, into our streets, into our cities, and into the world.
Candles are a ubiquitous custom in our tradition: Shabbat, Holy Days, Havdala, Yahrzeit, and Chanukah. Yet, each candle looks different and serves a separate purpose. Shabbat brings light to our table, memorial candles brings the light of our loved ones back into our lives, and Havdala separates the holy and the ordinary. Each of these candles is for inside the home. But the Chanukah candles are for the public. Sunday night, we will begin to light the candles, one by one, maalin bkodesh vlo moridin, as the light elevates us in holiness.
This Chanukah, place your candles in the window, bring light to the world, and watch others use the light you bring them to increase the blessings we all need during this Festival of Lights.