By Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
One of the most joyous moments of the Chanukah experience, at least for this writer, is not only the actual lighting of the menorah, but rather the immediate moments after when all the children have completed the lighting and we as a family sing the traditional zmirah, Hanairos Hallalu.
The song is named “Haneiros Hallalu — These Candles” and is basically about the Chanukah candles. We sing about the candles that we light to commemorate the wonders and the miracles the wars and the salvations that Hashem brought to our fathers in those days at this time of year.
Indeed the small flickering lights represent great miracles and a small light can light up the darkest night and inspire the most downtrodden soul.
But there is an interesting line in the song that highlights a halacha regarding the neiros. “And all the eight days of Chanukah these candles are sacred. And we have no permission to use them, only to look at them in order to convey our thankful recognition and to praise Your holy name.”
Indeed the halacha, Jewish law forbids us to utilize the light of Chanukah candles for personal employ. In fact,for that very reason, we light an extra candle – the Shamash . It is a superfluous light and is part of the lighting process and we need itin case we indeed accidentally utilize some of the light of the Menorah. In this manner the light of the holy candles can be mitigated by the light of the mundane.
What troubles me, however, is the juxtaposition of the two phrases, “we have no permission to use them; only to look at them; in order to convey our thankful recognition and to praise Your holy name.” What does the prohibition of using the light have to do with conveying our recognition and praise to Hashem’s Holy name? Aren’t they two separate issues?
A young American student visiting the Beethoven Museum in Bonn was fascinated by the piano on which Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works.
Handing the guard a wad of bills, she asked if she could play a few bars on it. The guard agreed and the girl carefully sat down at the piano and cautiously fingered the keys, playing the opening of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
Quite pleased with her touching history, she got up and beamed.
As she was leaving the hallowed instrument, she proposed to the guard: “I assume that all the great pianists who come here want to play on that piano.”
The guard shook his head. “For one thing, Paderewski was here a few years back and he said that he wasn’t worthy of touching it.”
If we understand the sanctity of something that to us is mundane and to others considered sacred, we can understand how important and sacred the true holy lights are.
Perhaps, just looking, revering and reflecting upon those lights — the very ones that represent the original lights of the Menorah in the Holy Temple — and not subjugating them to our personal use is the greatest expression of our reverence of them. And the reverence of those candles is a declaration that the Master of those lights has a special sanctity in our hearts and in our souls and in our lives.