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Menorah Lights Way for Future Generations

The Jewish people are a “light unto the nations,” and our mission to keep the miracle alive is never brighter than at Hanukkah time when the flickering candles on the menorah symbolize hope and joy. Each time we light a candle, we are reminded of the possibility of miracles in our lives. We remember that in a time of darkness our ancestors had the courage to struggle for freedom—freedom to be themselves, freedom to worship in their own way.

Growing up, I thought that lighting the menorah was the symbol to eat dinner and get a present. It’s actually a mitzvah to light the menorah and to display the nine branch candelabrum, called a “Chanukiah,” in a window for everyone to see and be uplifted by the glow. This mitzvah is known in Hebrew as pirsum ha’nes, or publicizing the miracle. We celebrate the miracle of the oil, the miracle of the victory of the weak over the strong, and the miracle of the few against the mighty. Finally, we affirm the miracle of the survival of the Jewish nation against the odds, which is as real today as it was more than 2,000 years ago.

The ritual of lighting the candles is significant as well. We place candles in the menorah from right to left, and we light them from left to right. In other words, we place them in English, and we kindle them in Hebrew. Each night a new candle is added toward the left.

The newest candle is lit first so every candle gets a chance to be first. The tallest candle, the shamas is used to light all the other candles. The shamash occupies the highest position not because of its importance but because it serves others. Shamash means “servant” or “helper.” It’s customary to light the candles right after sundown. On Shabbat the candles are lit before the Sabbath begins. On Saturday night, the Hanukkah candles are lit after Havdalah.

Each night, the following two blessings are recited as the candles are lit.
Baruch a-tah A-do-nai e-lohey-nu-me-lech ha-o-lam a-sher kid-sha-nu-b-mitz-vo-tav v-tzi-va-nu l-had-lik ner shel Ha-nu-kkah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot, and who commands us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.

Ba-ruch-a-tah A-do-nai e-lo-hey-nu me-lech ha-o-lam she-a-sa nis-sim la-a-vo-tey-nu ba-ya-min ha-heym ba-z’-man ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, ruler of the universe, who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in days of old, at this season.

On the first night of Hanukkah only, the following prayer is added: Ba-ruch a-tah A-do-nai e-lo-hey-nu me-lech ha-o-lam she-he-che-ya-nu v’-ki-y’ma-nu v’hi-gi-ya-nu la-z’man hazeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us and for enabling us to celebrate this joyous season.

When I was a child, my family lit a simple, silver menorah, and it was exciting for my brother and I to take turns holding the candle. Today, many families have a menorah for each child, making their own Hanukkah traditions. I enjoy my collection of menorahs because each one has special meaning. I love to watch the colorful light bulbs blink on my tall turquoise menorah that used to decorate my childhood home. Also, once a year, the marble spiral shaped menorah from Israel is removed from my china cabinet and takes center stage in the family room. Last year I splurged on an expensive contemporary menorah hand-sculpted in gold, copper, and marble, but the whale shaped clay menorah that my son made in preschool with his Great Grandma Ruth is priceless. The tail is chipped and colorful wax covers the whale’s long body, but we cherish this work of art.

Also truly unique and non-traditional is Sari’s birthday candle menorah that she made out of a giant potato. That’s right, my daughter spray painted silver an Idaho spud in honor of her tenth birthday, which is on the fourth night of Hanukkah this year. She poked plastic birthday candleholders in a straight line in the middle the potato, stacking three holders in the far-left side for the shamash candle. By the way, many of our grandparents used a potato for a menorah because that’s all they could afford.

During the eight days of Hanukkah, these lights are sacred. We are supposed to behold their beauty and share the light with others. It’s also customary to not occupy ourselves with work while the flames are burning, and women in particular should abstain from household duties at this time in thanks to the active role of women in the Hanukkah story. So why am I doing the dishes?

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. For ideas on how to make your own menorah, including an oil burning menorah, visit www.jewishappleseed.org. Feel free to send any comments to: ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com or visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.