Thoughts for the Week

Thursday, December 7


In the Talmud (Shabbat 21b) there is an interesting discussion regarding how, when and why the Chanukah lights are lit.

In those days, it appears, there was a variety of traditions, depending on people’s religiosity. The basic tradition was that on Chanukah each household lit a light every day. Others lit a light a day for each member of the household. Only the most religious would adjust the number of lights daily.

Regarding this last tradition there was a dispute between the Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai: Beit Shamai advocated starting Chanukah with all 8 candles lit, reducing the number by one candle daily. The reason given, to make it correspond to the number of bulls sacrificed daily on the festival of Sukkot, which was also reduced by one each day (acknowledging the fact that during the period of Greek oppression it had not been possible to celebrate the festival of Sukkot with the appropriate sacrifices).

However, according to Beit Hillel we should start with one candle and each night add another one, until we have all 8 candles burning on the last day. His reason being that in matters of holiness, we add and do not take away.

We know of course that Beit Hillel’s argument won, for this is the universal practice to this day.

It is surprising that on Chanukah we follow the tradition of the most zealous: one light every night would have sufficed!  Chanukah, however, evokes a deep sense of identity in us, even though it is only a minor festival, and it is not only because for many it serves as a Jewish alternative to Christmas.

Chanukah inspires us because of the enduring symbolism of hope embodied in the act of daily adding a little more light to dispel the darkness in a unpredictable and dangerous world.

It is a symbolism that we can so easily emulate in how we treat others at this time, by conscious acts of kindness and tzedakah, and of course also, by just coming together as a community as we light our Chanukiyot each night in Halsbury Close; whether it is for the lunch on Thursday, potluck dinner on Erev Shabbat, Havdalah on Saturday, a musical service on Sunday, the interfaith gathering on Tuesday or the young people’s drop in on Wednesday afternoon, we look forward to seeing you there.  Chag Chanukah sameach!

Rabbi Kathleen

December 7, 2023