From the Chassidic Rebbes
Chanuka it is traditional to play with the dreidel (Yiddish), or sevivon
(Hebrew), a four-sided top whose sides are marked with letters spelling out the
Chanuka miracle. The dreidel may also be seen as a symbol of the Jewish people:
Just as the dreidel spins, falls down, and is spun around once more, so too is
the fate of the Jews during the long exile: Driven from nation to nation, the
Jewish people--belittled, oppressed, and in constant danger of assimilation--always
rights itself and continues spinning. (Peninim Yekarim)
From the Chabad Masters
The "shammash" candle, the one which is used
to light all the others, is not part of the mitzva itself. Yet it is precisely
this candle which is placed, by Jewish custom, above all the others in a position
of honor. We learn from this that a person who lights the "candle" of
another Jew, who shares his enthusiasm and love of Judaism with another until
he, too, is touched and "ignited," elevates his own spirituality as
well. (Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Chanukah and Women
Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, pointed out that we say the blessing "Blessed
are You...who made miracles..." only on the festivals of Chanukah and Purim.
On Passover, however, this blessing is not recited. He explained that one reason
for this difference is that there are two kinds of miracles. There are miracles
that transcend the laws of nature, such as the ten plagues and the splitting of
the Reed Sea. There are also miracles that occur within nature.
on Chanukah, when Yehudit, the High Priest's daughter, enticed the enemy general,
Holofernes, and served him dairy dishes: he got very thirsty, she gave him lots
of wine, he slept, and she beheaded him, destroying the morale of his troops and
snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. This was an amazing miracle, yet it
was made up of events that all occurred within the matrix of natural phenomena.
then, is why on Chanukah we say the blessing "who made miracles for our ancestors
"b'yamim haheim b'zman hazeh"-"in those days in this time"-for
then the miracle happened within natural time. On Pesach, though, the miracles
were done directly by G-d, outside of space-time, and for that reason we don't
make this blessing, for the miracle was above nature.
This also serves explains
why the "natural" miracles of Chanukah and Purim had to take place through
women. The relationship of our physical world to G-d is that of mekabel-mashpia
[receiver-giver], which is also a paradigm for the feminine-masculine polar forces.
Since the Chanukah and Purim miracles occurred within nature, and the world stands
as 'receiver' in relation to G-d, they came about through women, who also symbolize
the aspect of mekabel.
Some Laws and Customs
LAWS OF THE CHANUKAH LIGHTS
1. On the first night (this year: Tuesday., Dec. 16), one light is kindled
at the right end of the menorah.
the next night a light is added to the left of the first one and both lights are
kindled, and similarly each night until eight lights are kindled on the eighth
3. Each night an additional light is kindled--called the shamesh--which
is used to light the other ones and then placed above them.
4. The lights
are kindled left to right, starting with the newest light.
5. The lights
must burn for at least half an hour after dark.
6. If available, olive-oil
lights are preferable to wax candles.
7. Before kindling, make sure there
is enough oil (or big enough candles) to burn for half an hour (or more if lit
before nightfall-see 5).
8. In our times, the menorah is placed:
a. On the outside of the front door, opposite the mezuzah (Jerusalem practice)
b. In a door frame inside the house, opposite the mezuzah (Chassidic practice)
c. In a window facing a public thoroughfare (common practice)
an apartment more than ten meters above the street, practice c. is of questionable
9. The lights should be in an even row -no curves,
no height variations. They should be well-spaced so their flames do not appear
merged (and if candles, that they do not melt each other).
10. On the first
night, immediately before kindling, all three blessings (found in every prayerbook)
11. On the subsequent nights, only the first two blessings are
12. No use should be made of the lights shed by the Chanukah candles,
such as reading by their light.
13. For the Friday evening of Chanukah, the lights must be kindled before
sunset and before the Shabbat candles are lit. Additional oil (or larger
candles) should be provided to ensure that they can burn until half an
hour after nightfall.
Last year's Chanukah page
for more Kabbalah
insights on Chanukah