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ב"ה

Inside Out

Friday, 11 December, 2020 - 7:03 am

 Tonight, we will kindle Chanukah candles and then Shabbat candles.

The Talmud poses the question: Which is more important – lighting Shabbat candles or lighting Chanukah candles?

The Talmud’s response is that if one can only afford one or the other, Shabbat candles take precedence.

In order to appreciate the Talmud’s reasoning, let’s understand the difference between Shabbat candles and Chanukah candles.

Both mitzvahs are of Rabbinic origin. But, their purposes are markedly different.

Put simply, Shabbat candles are lit in order to bring peace and warmth to the home. They are, by design, inward focused. Therefore, they are ideally lit at or near the dinner table – a place where the household members can benefit from them.

Chanukah candles are lit in order to publicize the miracle that G-d performed to our ancestors. They are, by design, outward focused. Therefore, they are ideally lit at the doorway or window – a place that will be visible to the public.

What then, is the message of preferring inward-focused candles over outward-focused candles?

*

This week, Boise awoke to an awful reality. The Anne Frank Memorial in downtown was vandalized with anti-Semitic stickers. The Boise Police Department is working hard to hold accountable those responsible.

Boise Chief of Police Ryan Lee has personally assured me that this is an absolute priority for them. He also shared that he is confident this is an isolated incident and there is no reason for the local Jewish community to fear anything beyond what has occurred. Of course, we are taking all necessary precautions, just in case.

And, the outpouring of support from the wider community has been nothing short of phenomenal.

However, the greater question remains. What should we – as Jews – do in response?

Some have advocated statements against bigotry, others have promoted regrouping and laying low.

It’s no coincidence that this occurred at the onset of Chanukah. Perhaps Chanukah can shed some light.

Most of Jewish practice is observed proudly – but inwardly. We walk around with yarmulkes, but we don’t proselytize. We cut short work on winter Fridays to get home in time for Shabbat, but don’t demand our non-Jewish employers shut down for Shabbat. We insist on Jewish education for our children, but don’t ask others to do the same. In our own homes, we insist on kosher food, but don’t condemn our neighbor’s habit of eating shrimp.

As the sun sets on Fridays, we reinforce this dimension of Yiddishkeit – by brightening our own homes with the warmth and light of Hashem. We invite our friends and family to bask in the beauty of this intimate light.

Chanukah is different. On Chanukah we remind ourselves that we also need to have an outward focus. We must be a beacon of light to the world. True, we aren’t pushing Judaism on others. But, we do have an important, ethical message to the world. Our message of universal morality based on faith in G-d is a message we want the entire world to embrace. We work tirelessly to spread goodness and kindness. We unabashedly promote the ideals of generosity and holiness, embodied by the bold flames of the menorah.

When Chanukah coincides with Shabbat, we are tugged from both sides. We focus on internal, expressly Jewish rituals and values. And, simultaneously, we are driven to share our light with the rest of the world.

By telling us that Shabbat candles come before Chanukah candles, the Talmud may be answering our modern-day quandary.  In response to hatred and terror, what do we do?

We light the menorah – and share our light with the world. But, we remember that it must be a decidedly Jewish light that is shared. Shabbat candles are primary. Our identity can never be swallowed into the universal values that we promote. If we lose sight of our inward mission, our outward mission is doomed to fail.

Tonight, we have a unique opportunity to light both candles. Let’s not cower in our homes. Let’s not abandon our uniqueness.

Let’s shine our light – as Jews. Let’s influence others to increase in acts of goodness and kindness – in recognition of G-d’s miraculous ways.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah!

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