Dear B’nai Shalom members, families, and friends:
With the joyous holiday of Chanukah next up on our Jewish calendar, it is my pleasure to share with you the following guidelines and explanations for the most complete fulfillment of the mitzvot of the holiday and for the fullest joy possible.
Typically, candles should be kindled in one’s own home. If it is not possible to light candles in one’s own home, they can be kindled in other places such as a hotel or in someone else’s home.
Lighting should take place while people are awake in one’s home AND while people are still on the street. This helps us fulfill the directive to us of “Pirsumei Nisa”, making public and making known the miracles of the holiday. It is for this reason that we place the Chanukah menorah in our windows so the lights can be seen by passersby on the street.
Many people may even be familiar with the widely-observed tradition in Israel of lighting the Chanukah menorah OUTSIDE. The Chanukah menorahs that are often used in Israel are weather resistant, wind resistant glass covered menorahs which are intended for outside lighting. It is a very beautiful experience to walk down streets in Jerusalem for example, and see home after home with their menorahs burning brightly making well known the joy of the holiday.
There are three brachot (blessings) recited when lighting candles the first night of Chanukah, OR, more to the point, the first night that one lights, which, under unusual circumstances, might not necessarily be the first night of the holiday.
The second bracha (blessing) said is: “…she-asah nisim la-avoteinu…,” (“…for the miracles G-d performed for us…”) which is the same bracha said on hearing the Megillah on Purim.
We recite the full Hallel prayer during the morning Shacharit service whether davening in shul or at home, and this is said each day of Chanukah.
We add the prayer: “Al HaNisim” (thanking G-d for the miracles of the holiday) to our Shemonah Esrai (the silent Amidah) and to the Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals). We do not repeat Shemonah Esrai or the Birkat HaMazon if forgotten.
There is Torah reading each day of Chanukah, taken from Parshat Naso, depicting the dedication of the Mishkan (the Holy Tabernacle).
In general, Sephardic Jews typically have one menorah for each member of the family. Ashkenazim typically have one menorah for the entire family. These minhagim (traditions) are not ironclad and can be switched around from year to year and even from night to night, as necessary.
The Shamash (the “helping candle”) only needs to be noticeably different from the other candles and not necessarily higher. The other candles need to be all the same height.
One cannot use the candles of the Menorah for light or heat. You will notice an important reference to this in the HaNerot Hallalu prayer, which is said immediately after lighting each night. There, we are told that the candles are “kodesh”, they are “holy” and cannot be used for any other mundance purpose.
There is a minhag (a tradition) not to do work during the time that the candles are burning. This is only a minhag (a tradition).
There is a potential problem with the lighting of candles on the Friday night of Chanukah. This is because the Shabbat candles must be lit AFTER the Chanukah candles but before sundown. The usual, typical Chanukah-style candles last only 35-45 minutes. This creates a problem because if THOSE candles are kindled before the Shabbat candles at the proper time, they will not burn sufficiently into darkness. Therefore, larger candles which will last for thirty minutes PAST the time of official darkness (typically one hour after Shabbat candle lighting time), must be used for the Chanukah candles for Friday night. Lighting with oil would also eliminate this problem completely as oil burns far longer than candles.
In our shuls, the Chanukah menorah is placed on the South wall, just as the Menorah in the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple) was in the south.
Wishing you all a joyous and festive Chag Chanukah — a Chag Chanukah sameach,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin