According to Kabbalistic teachings, the number seven is the number of perfection that is achievable through natural means whereas eight symbolizes that which is beyond the realm of the natural and it’s limited perfection.
Examples of the number seven in Judaism:
- The world and it’s natural order was created in seven days. The Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week, represents completeness after G-d created and continues to create during the rest of the week.
- There is a period of seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot that Jewish people count. In these weeks, special emphasis is put on perfecting seven emotions; love, fear, compassion, ambition, humility, bonding and receptiveness- one emotion a week. After these seven weeks of work on the self, we are considered a being worthy of receiving the Torah on Shavuot as a people of completed persons who have gained control over all seven emotions.
- The Menorah in the Temple was meant to illuminate this natural world with spirituality and it had seven branches.
- Seven colors can be found in a rainbow and there are also seven musical notes. Seven parts to something means that it has reached a state of completion- for example- seven notes on the diatonic scale equals a complete octave.
Eight is symbolic of something that is a step higher than the natural order- it does beyond the limitations of nature. Therefore, the festival of Chanukah is eight days long- the decision of the small group of Maccabees to wage war against the huge Greek armies was far from logic and nature. The Maccabees relied on faith and courage that were far beyond normal human nature. In reward for this, they merited a miracle that was beyond the natural- a miracle lasting eight days- when the jug of oil they found in the Temple that had enough oil to last a day burnt steadily for eight entire days.
In commemoration of this miracle, Jewish people light an eight-branched Chanukah Menorah (candelabrum) on each night of the eight-day festival of Chanukah, which begins on the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev.
LAWS OF HANUKKAH
- One should prepare the wicks and candles/oil before evening prayers if you light after the evening prayers or well before the time of lighting in order to light the Menorah at the correct time.
- It is best to light the Menorah in the presence of as many people as possible so as to publicize the miracle as much as possible- this refers to people both inside and outside of the house.
- On the first night of Hanukkah three blessings are recited; one on the lighting of the candles, one on the miracles of Hanukkah and one on the merit of reaching this special occasion.
- On the last seven nights of Hanukkah, only the blessings over the candles and the miracles of Hanukkah are recited.
- The blessings are recited before lighting the candles. The Shamash candle is lit before reciting the blessings and held as they are recited. Immediately after reciting the blessings, the Shamash should be used to light the rest of the candle and it is forbidden to speak between the recitation of the blessings and the completion of the lighting.
- An ancient chant called “hanerot halalu” is recited either during or after the lighting of the candles.
- There is a custom to sing Hanukkah songs such as “Maoz Tzur” after lighting the candles.
- When setting up the Menorah, one should place the candles in the Menorah from right to left. When lighting, one lights from left to right, starting with the candle on the left and moving right.
- Different customs exist with regard to placing the candles- some say one places them with regard to the observer from outside, others say it is in relation to the one lighting.
- After the Menorah has been lit it should not be moved.
- If one lit the Menorah in accordance with the requirements of the Jewish law and it was extinguished, one is not obligated to relight it but may do so without reciting the blessings.
- If one lit the Menorah but not in accordance with the requirements of Jewish law or it was lit in a windy place and it blew out, one can relight it, providing it went out within half an hour of nightfall.
- On Friday afternoon the Menorah should be lit before Shabbat candles are lit and Mincha (afternoon prayers) should be said before lighting if possible.