“Boys,” I say to the four sitting around the table, “let’s take out the Hanukkah things and make sure
everything is in order.” Hanukkah is just around the corner, and I want to be ready. That means bringing
out our beloved hanukkiot, candles, oils and wicks, and holiday decorations.
The kids start emptying the boxes, oohing and ahhing over the different menorahs. Noam unwraps his
Yair Emanuel multicolored train menorah, and a big smile lights up his face. “Ima, look,” he says,
beaming. In our house, everyone has their own hanukkiah, and every night, just after nightfall, we light
the lights together, adding one candle each day. I say candles, and it is mostly true, but Yossi and Moishy
prefer hanukkiot they fill with oil and wicks, which impart the air with a special fragrance that reminds
me of Hanukkahs past.
One of the requirements of the hanukkiah is that the eight candles must be “equal”, which usually
means arranged in a line, with no one candle any bigger or more prominent than the others. Only the
shamash, as the “guardian” of the other candles, is a little higher or in a different location. Naturally, this
added restriction makes the design of a beautiful hanukkiah more challenging for the artist. Yet the best
designers craft truly enchanting hannakiot while observing all halachic requirements as see clearly in my
menorah, a lovely creation by Tzuki Art depicting a joyful family scene. Yossi bought it for me a few
years ago, and it always puts a big smile on my face.
(Me & the boys playing with the Dreidel)
As we carefully unwrap each hanukkiah, I remember how our window sill looks, full of Hanukkah flames.
On the last night, each menorah holds eight burning flames, plus the shamash, spreading golden light
and warmth in the house.
One of the nicest aspects of Jewish law is the concept of hiddur mitzvah , which means beautifying the
mitzvah, above and beyond the letter of the law. For example, during Sukkot, the requirements for a
kosher etrog are fairly straightforward, and basically any well-formed etrog will do. But many people
seek out the most beautiful and fragrant etrog as a way of beautifying the mitzvah. That’s hiddur
mitzvah, and it comes into play during the Festival of Lights as well.
According to basic Jewish law, we must light one candle every night of Hannukah, meaning that at the
end of the eight days, we would have burned only eight candles. But many people light them as we do,
adding another new candle every night, so that at the end of the eight days, we have burned 36 candles,
not including the shamash, or helper candle. This is our way of doing hiddur mitzvah for Hannukah.
People go to extra length to beautify the holiday with these added flames, while in many cases, during
the rest of the year and in other situations, they do just the minimum.
I am lost in thought, pondering the “mystery of the candles”, and then Daniel unwraps the last
hanukkiah in the box. It is exquisite, a special piece by the artist Laura Cowan called Tel Aviv Sea
Menorah. As I look at it, now a few days before the Festival of Lights, I see a beautiful work of art that
while beautiful just as it is, is even more beautiful when it holds eight candles. “Ah,” I think to myself.
“I’m starting to see the light.”
Why some people don’t fulfill every part of every halachah, that is between them and the Almighty. It’s
a mystery, just the way people who go further in their expression of the law by lighting more candles
every night, who make an effort to do hiddur mitzvah is a mystery. But that one I am starting to
understand a little better. Because filling a hanukkiah with beautiful hanukkah candles beautifies the
holiday and literally fills the mitzvah with light and beauty.