א דחנוכה תשע”ב
The mitzvah as established by our sages is to light a ‘ner Hanukah’; literally, a ‘Hanukah lamp’. The Maharal is quite particular in his comments on the halachah that one must use a lamp rather than candles. There must be a container which can hold oil (or other suitable fuel), and wick which can draw the oil and be lit.
The essence of Hanukah may be summarized as a conscious decision by our forebears to prioritize and emphasize the primacy of Torah and Godly wisdom over material concerns and worldly values. Indeed, Hashem’s Torah is meant for this world; but the Torah must be what defines our values and their implementation; even while we are engaged in the development of a this-worldly society and its welfare. The culture of Greece wasn’t all bad; but our forefathers recognized that it is insufficient to bring Godly values into our worldly affairs and activities. The contributions of Hellenic culture are to be selected for their value and utility; and Torah is to be the measure by which we determine what contributes to our holy endeavors and what does not.
As noted, a ner is a vessel prepared to receive the light. The holy Menorah in the Mikdash was to be lit and tended until the flame of each container burnt well on its own. This is our model. We must make ourselves vessels to receive Hashem’s light as it comes to us through His Torah and other means. But the vessel must be lit and maintained until it can burn on its own. We must learn Torah, seek Hashem’s presence, and infuse that light into all we do and are. Each Jew must burn with the light of Torah on his and her own. That can only happen when we tend the vessel and feed the flame. The mitzvah of Hanukah teaches us that we have to prepare ourselves, and tend to our learning and prayer and spiritual needs continually until we are able to not only receive, but spread the light outward as well.