According to the Zohar, every single day of the year is unique and has its own significance in the scheme of life on this earth. In addition to the regular days, there are certain days on the Jewish calendar that stand out in their significance. These are the Yomim Tovim. Each Yom Tov imparts a specific lesson and aspect of G-dliness, which hopefully have an impact on the behavior and Divine service of the Yidden for the entire year. Each year, the lesson is learned in a deeper manner, elevating our individual service.
Chanukah has its own unique message and Divine service, which actually surpasses all of the other Yomim Tovim, as it is one of only two festivals that will stand out above ordinary days in the Messianic Era. Even now, the message of Chanukah stands out among the other festivals. Since the lessons are universal and eternal, they must be simple ones, in order to reach every single Jew – even those far from observance and Jewish education. Although the lessons are simple, they are nonetheless very important, as the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, once stated: “The simplicity of a Jew connects him to G-d’s ultimate simplicity.” These lessons are highlighted through the Chanukah candles.
The Chanukah candles are set up in the doorway to one’s home so that the light shines out to the street. Not only the home of a Jew, but even the surrounding area, is enhanced and illuminated by the light of the menorah. In addition, each night we increase in light, adding a candle. This teaches us that we must always strive to increase in our Divine service and grow in holiness, progressing and illuminating the world more each day.
By the seventh night of Chanukah we have lit the candles on each unique day of the week. By lighting the candles each day in the most mehudar manner (adding a candle each day as opposed to the halachic minimum of one candle each day), it shows that nothing will stand in the way of Torah and mitzvos – that each and every day we will progress in our service and overcome every obstacle.
Finally, when we recite HaNeiros Hallalu we affirm: “These candles are holy. We are not permitted to make use of them but only to look at them.” We light an extra candle, the shamash, placed higher than the others, to ensure that we do not derive a benefit from the actual Chanukah candles and that our lighting is “l’shma”. Lighting a shamash each night causes a Jew to incur an extra expense because of the extra candle necessary as a precaution against benefiting from the Chanukah candles. Still, we willingly take on the expense to make sure the mitzvah is performed correctly.
The customs surrounding the Chanukah candles teach an important lesson. The highest level of Divine service is performing mitzvos “l’shma” (for the sole reason of performing G-d’s will). This is not an easy level to reach and often we do a mitzvah in hope of a physical or spiritual reward (lo l’shma). The light of the candles is a symbol of the reward for doing the mitzvah. However, by lighting the shamash we refuse to accept the reward and demonstrate that we fulfill the mitzvah l’shma. The public nature of the menorah (lit in the doorway) proclaims to the whole world that our goal is to serve Hashem l’shma, and the addition of a candle each night further proclaims our readiness to do mitzvos in the most mehudar way.
May each and every Jew reach the level of serving Hashem l’shma in all areas of Divine service, mehadrin min hamehadrin, and speedily bring about the complete and final Redemption.