What is Holy? A Hanukkah Message
Often we associate holiness with old men pouring over ancient texts or pious people praying regularly. Kedushah (holiness) is a foreign concept to so many of us.
There is a prayer that is traditionally recited when Hanukkah candles are lit: ”these lights are holy, and we are not allowed to use them, only to look at them ”. This prayer alludes to a somewhat esoteric point of Jewish law. According to the halakha, the Hanukkah lights may not be used for any secular purpose. For example, we are forbidden to read by their light. The candles are meant to inspire us. They remind us of the light of religious freedom brought into the world by the ancient
Maccabees. They are to be admired but not used. Indeed, the shammash (the extra candle lit each night) has its origin in the legal fiction that if we do use the light generated from the menorah, it is not the
Hanukkah lights we are reading by, but the extra shammash light.
In this obscure halakha, we can find a meaning of holiness we can all relate to. We find true holiness in ideas that inspire us, or in acts of compassion that move us. Things that we use or manipulate are not
In a truly holy relationship, our spouse, our child, or our parents are people we inspire or are inspired by, not people we use.
When we admire nature as a gift from the almighty rather than a series of objects we can gain benefit from, our relationship with nature becomes holy. And when we relate to others in such a way as to give, rather than manipulate and use, we create sparks of holiness.
Hanukkah reminds us that our relationship with God should be holy. We love God and follow God’s
mitzvot not only for the promised rewards, but also to bring holiness into our lives.
The Hanukkah lights are holy because they cannot be used.
One more lesson of Hanukkah lights and holiness.
So many religions associate candles with holiness.
Perhaps it is because one candle can light so many others and it’s flame is never diminished. If you are blessed and have a child for example, you pour so much love into that child you might think you have exhausted your supply. You’ve reached empty. Then you are blessed with another tiny miracle and your supply is quickly replenished . During this year of COVID, the Hanukkah lights have a new message. They represent the many doctors and nurses and essential workers and so many others who served us as our “shammash” , taking great risks and making great sacrifices to do so. Their acts were holy and may they continue to shed lights for all of us.
Rabbi Jacob Rosner