Last night we lit 8 candles for the last night of Hanukkah. There is a debate in the Talmud between Hillel and Shammai about how the candles should be lit. I’d like to share a teaching by Michael Strassfel on this famous debate. (From Michael Strassfel’s weekly Torah. You can sign up by contacting email@example.com).
Hillel states that we should light one the first night, two the second and so on. Shammai states that we should start with eight candles the first night and then light seven the second, and so on. I would suggest that Shammai is following his general overriding principle—to tell the truth. The truth is that we live in a world of ever diminishing expectations. The moment we are born we begin to die. Each day brings us one day closer to our last day. For Shammai, truth is the ultimate value. Therefore, Shammai says that on her wedding day, we tell the truth about the bride—if she is beautiful, then we say that. If she is not, then we should say that.
Hillel says that every bride is beautiful, because he believes every bride is beautiful in the eyes of those who love her on her wedding day. Similarly for Hillel there is a deeper sense of truth at issue in the debate about the Hannukah candle lighting, and with the deeper truth about life itself. The deeper truth is that our lives become ever richer and fuller with the passage of time, not increasingly diminished. The light of Hanukkah reminds us of the potential that lies within each moment. The present can be filled with light and that light can increase no matter where we are in the span of our lives. Like life, light can pierce any darkness.
It became the custom to follow Hillel’s opinion that we light an additional light each night to make known the miracle of Hanukkah, that is, our light can grow exceedingly bright beyond any reasonable expectations. Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space. It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe. It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.’
As our Chanukah celebrations for this year reach their radiant brightness, may we all give of our light freely, and spread the miracles that spring beyond expectation from the giving that seeks nothing in return.
Shabbat shalom and Chag Urim Sameach/Happy Festival of Lights!