It is almost impossible to overstate how important lighting lights is to Jewish law and tradition. We light candles for Shabbat, for holidays, and, of course, for the eight days of Chanukah, which begins this evening.
Maimonides, in the Mishneh Torah, teaches that if one is poor and doesn’t have enough money to buy both Shabbat candles (or wax or oil as the case may be) and wine for kiddush, the candles take precedence. And specifically speaking of the Chanukah lights, Maimonides teaches us that, even if you can’t afford food and are relying on charity, you should still do whatever it takes – including selling off possessions – to be able to light Chanukah candles. The mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles, Maimonides writes, “is exceedingly precious.”
Probably not since 2001, when we were still reeling from the attacks of 9/11, have I felt as eager to light the Chanukah candles as I do right now. In a year that has been full of darkness, Jane and our children and I can’t wait to see the light in our home and our community grow day by day.
Indeed, there is light coming through the darkness. We have seen the first vaccines administered, heralding the beginning of the end of this pandemic. We have seen families reunited after decades of separation as another wave of Ethiopian olim arrive in Israel. We have seen Israelis and citizens of the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan embrace peace and a new era of relations between their countries and their people. And, as chair of the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Federations of North America, I have had the privilege of seeing countless acts of tzedakah and chesed that have brought light into this world and made it possible for us to look forward to a springtime of reopening and rebuilding.
The original tradition on Chanukah was to place the menorah outside one’s front door in order to fulfill another of the commandments of the holiday – pirsumei nisa – to “publicize the miracle.” Over the years, for reasons of safety and inclement weather, the more common practice came to be to light the candles in a window facing the street so those passing by can see them. With this in mind, the Lubavitcher Rebbe used to bless his followers by saying “your home should become a light that illuminates the entire street and community. Make sure you are sharing your lights with others. They are not meant for yourself. Give your light to others.”
My friends, I am so blessed to be part of a community of leaders – lay and professional – who are illuminating their communities, who are giving their light to others. I can’t thank you enough for all you do. From my home to yours, may the lights of this very special Chanukah bring a light that quickly reaches every Jew who needs our help in every corner of the world, and brings healing to the entire world.
Mark Wilf is the Chair of the Board of Trustees.