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The Menorah and the Thirty-Six Lights of Chanukah

An excerpt from The Mystical Nature of Light

By R’ Avraham Arieh Trugman

Kabbalah and Chassidut provide a host of different reasons for their assertion that the Chanukah lights represent and, ultimately, reveal the hidden Divine light of Creation. On a fundamental level, the chanukiah clearly represents the menorah in the Temple. Logic dictates that just as the menorah radiated Divine light, so does the chanukiah.
Another allusion to the infinite Divine light clothing itself in the finite light of the chanukiah may be found in the thirty-six Chanukah lights we kindle over the course of the eight nights. The Talmud relates that before the metaphysical light of the first day was concealed, Adam and Eve used it for thirty-six hours before being exiled from the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve sinned they tried to hide from God, but He confronted them with one powerful word that has reverberated throughout the ages –ayeka– where are you? God was obviously not asking Adam and Eve to reveal their hiding place; rather He was issuing them a much deeper existential challenge: Where have you gone? What have you done? Who are you? Significantly, the numerical value of the word “ayeka” is thirty-six, alluding to the Divine light that would soon be hidden. During Chanukah we begin by kindling one light and each night add an additional one. Altogether we light thirty-six lights, a clear allusion to the infinite Divine light of Creation and a sign to us that it can be experienced even now. By lighting the thirty-six lights, we respond to God’s call of “ayeka” by declaring that we are here searching for his Divine light.
Eicha, spelled the same way in Hebrew as “ayeka,” but pronounced differently, is also the Hebrew name for the book of Lamentations, which mourns the destruction of the first Temple. In anticipation of the Temple’s destruction, the menorah was hidden away safely to await future discovery. Here again Divine light is revealed (in the menorah) only to be subsequently hidden.
Chanukah is celebrated on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev. The twenty-fifth word of the Torah coincides with the word light’s first appearance in the Torah: “Let there be light.” The word Kislev can be divided in two and read as kis-lev, meaning “thirty-six are hidden” (the numerical value of “lev” is thirty-six and “kis” means covered or hidden in Hebrew). Thus, we can see that the thirty-six hours the Divine light shone for Adam are concealed in the thirty-six candles of the month of Kislev.
The miraculous flask of oil that was used to light the menorah, was hidden away and was the only oil not defiled by the Greeks. The light of the menorah was first revealed and then hidden, while the light of Chanukah was first hidden and then revealed! From this perspective, we might say that the lights of Chanukah reveal the hidden light of the Temple menorah in every Jewish home.
According to Jewish law, the Chanukah lights are supposed to be lit in public (an individual should preferably light them outside the door to his or her home opposite the mezuzah), in order to publicize the miracle. This is the only Jewish ritual we are taught to perform in such an open, revealed manner. The root of the Hebrew word Chanukah is chet-nun-kaf, from which the word chinuch meaning “education” derives. Perhaps more than any other mitzva, the kindling of lights on Chanukah represents the quintessential mission of the Jewish people – to be a “light unto the nations.” The light of Chanukah is not merely a physical light; rather, it is a spiritual light meant to be shared with and revealed to the entire world.
There is a Jewish tradition that in every generation there are thirty-six hidden tzaddikim (righteous people) by whose merit alone the world continues to exist (Sanhedrin 97b). The Midrash relates that when God said “Let there be light,” He was referring to the acts of the tzaddikim” (Genesis Rabba 3:8). At all times, a certain amount of the original light of Creation must shine in order to keep the world in existence; the good deeds of the hidden tzaddikim prevent this light from going out.
We are further taught that within each and every Jew there is the spark of a tzaddik, as the prophet says, “And your people are all tzaddikim” (Isaiah 60:21). The tiny flask of pure oil concealed from the Greeks represents the hidden spark of a tzaddik within each Jewish soul. No matter how far a Jew may wander from his or her roots, this spark is ready and waiting to be ignited and revealed to the world.

Don't forget to visit our New Horizons blog for great content including this past Monday's Parsha class and other recent posts!


 
   
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