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On Sunday evening the 18th of December we will light the first candle of Hanukkah and then we will celebrate the holiday of lights for 8 days, adding one candle each night until all the 8 candles of the Menorah are lit.

But like everything in Judaism, we have two opinions in the Talmud regarding the correct way to light the candles, Bet Shammai says we light 8 candles on the first night and then every following night one candle less, comparing it to the way the sacrifices were brought on Sukkot where the numbers went down every day, Bet Hillel on the other hand, hold that “Ma’lin bakodesh ve’en moridin”, meaning, in things of holiness, we only go up, by adding, but not going downwards, by reducing.

The question I always asked myself is, why does no one give the option of lighting all 8 candles all 8 nights? Why does is have to go one way or the other?

We know that when there’s an argument between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel, we accept the opinion of Bet Hillel, which is usually the lenient position, but we have in the name of the Arizal, that in the Messianic times, the rules will be like Bet Shammai, the stricter position.

And why is that? Because now in our lives, the world cannot be ruled by justice, but my mercy, and the future Messianic days, when we won’t have the Yetzer Hara, the urge to do bad anymore, the world would be able to operate solely on the system of justice.

Going back to the two opinions about how to light the Menorah, both agree that it’s a process we have to go through. The holy Ba’al Shem Tov famously said, that even a little light has the power to drive away lots of darkness, but if we want to shine a stronger light in the world around us, according to Bet Hillel, we add another candle every night.

Bet Shammai is referring to a perfect world, where there is light all over the place already, Messianic days, then the celebration will be a remembrance of how the evil forces from the past vanished from the earth, but we are not there yet, so our duty now is to make the world a brighter and better place.

We will take a lesson from this for ourselves as well, and in these days of darkness, lack of economic clarity and military threats in the world, we will add light in all our circles and surroundings. This is our main task in general and Hanukkah in particular, and from this the light of complete redemption will soon shine upon us.

Rabbi Akiva Weingarten Rabbi of Migwan, Liberal Jewish Community of Basel


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