Looking across the street as we light our Chanukah candles in our window, I always feel outdone by the glow of colored seasonal lights illuminating the house directly across our road.
But that is the great significance of the Chanukah Light. Let me explain.
The common custom is that we light an additional candle every night of Chanukah. However, Halacha (Jewish law and custom) has three levels for the candle lighting. The minimum is one candle each night. The second level is to light a candle for each member of the household. Our custom is the highest level. The same goes for where to light. The preferred place is at the door (the common custom in Israel). Second best is in the window facing the public (our common custom). If neither can be done then it suffices to light on the table in middle of the room.
This tiered level mitzvah is unique to Chanukah. Why was it established this way?
If we look back at the story of Chanukah, we find Matityahu, a single individual, who was inspired to remain faithful to Jewish values. He imparted this to his children, who took it to battle and inspired the nation to follow them. All seemed lost; the majorities had already assimilated. Matityahu could have given up, and accepted the facts of the times, but he knew, as long as one person would stand for our Truth, all is not lost. It is upon this concept that the lighting was established. The first and foremost level must be the single candle. Like Matitiyahu, even if you are the only candle burning, you must let that light go forth. The next level would be to inspire each member of your household, like Matityahu did, and light a candle for each one. Our custom follows an even greater aspiration. The hope that not only can we light for ourselves and our households, but also assure that our light continue to increase.
Sometimes, this inspiration is something contained in a household, but cannot permeate the outside world. In such a case, all we do is light on our table. At least we can inspire ourselves. In better times, we can let this light shine into the world, but from the inside, insulated by our home’s boundaries. So we light at our window to the outside world. In times of spiritual strength and courage, we can open our door allowing our light to directly interact with the world. At such times, we light at the door.
As I light the menorah, I realize that our Chanukah lights may not be the brightest lights on the block, but it doesn’t have to be. The Chanukah lesson is well learned. Like Matityahu, as long as this single light shines, our light will shine on.