From Dorice’s Weekly Highlights:
I love this time a year so much. It is darker early, it is a bit cold, and we gather with our friends and family for a tradition that is over 2,000 years old: to light the chanukiah. When else in Judaism are we all obligated to light? You would be correct to say Shabbat and Havdalah. So what is the difference between the essence of the three? How did lighting become a marker of Jewish identity and practice?
From halachic perspective, laws of Shabbat are not mentioned in the Torah, but more in the Talmud. One melacha (forbidden work) that we are not allowed to do is light a flame. So our wise rabbis decided that we all light the candles before Shabbat and they last into Shabbat, thus shabbat candles are usable. Shabbat candles are for use and view from inside our home. It is a private domain. Some of us bring light by circling our arms inward bringing light in. Shabbat candles are within the context of the family.
Chanukah candles on the other hand: are the main symbol of the holiday. Why not focus on the military victory for example? Why make the light the main focus? Perhaps because military victory lasted over 200 years only, until the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE. The spiritual miracle, however, the victory of faith and a way of life over Hellenism, well, that lasted over 2000 years! The light of Chanukah tells us that something small can show us what really matters. And that is why we place it by the window, to publicize the miracle. Chanukah candles show us and everyone what it means to be a Jew in a public domain. Chabad has taken it seriously!
Havdalah – the light we light at the end of Shabbat. According to tradition Adam and Eve spent only one day in paradise, and in order not to send them out there to the darkness, god instructs them to light candles. Unlike ancient Greeks gods, our god desires us to have light! And bring light in the world. V’yehee Or , “and let there be light” can be done by human beings on a weekly basis. We are partners with god! It’s different than the other two lightings. The Havdalah candles have several wicks merged together. It is light that reflects the boundary between kodesh and chol. As we go to the public world, we join the light of the holy, the inside and the light of the outside, the mundane to make one candles. After all, our lives are full of holy and non-holy in every thing we do, right?
While Shabbat is the light of revelation, Havdalah is the light of creation that lights up the world, and Chanukah is the light of redemption, harkening to a free world where we can be Jewish.
Chag Urim Sameach everyone. And we look forward to seeing you at the party on Saturday night!