Our Sages have devised a distinctive framework for kindling the Chanukah lights. The specific setting of this commandment and the persons charged with this obligation highlight the character of this responsibility, and in turn shed light on the constitution of this festival.
Location of Lights
The ideal location of the Neiros satisfies two extreme elements. When society permits i.e. when there is no threat of an anti-Semitic reprisal, candles are lit outside at the entrance to one’s courtyard. This sweet-spot finds the middle ground between two conflicting interests, public and private expression. One does not light in the street, but in one’s personal property, it is a Mitzvah for the home, a festival to be celebrated with one’s family. (This aspect gains greater expression during times of danger when we light indoors only exhibiting for the residents.) On the other hand the Menorah is lit close to the street in an effort to publicize the miracle. (This aspect dictates the time for kindling in order to maximize exposure to the outside traffic.) To accommodate these two dimensions Chanukah lights are lit at the extremity of one’s address, the edge of one’s home on the cusp of the public domain.
It is striking that this Mitzvah is a collective obligation. Chanukah lights are an instruction directed at the household not its individual members. The people who live in the house are commanded as a unit to light a lamp to memorialize the miracle. Shabbos lights, in contrast, are an obligation on individual members of the household. Although the occupants, can collectively discharge their obligation to light Shabbos candles by having one person act as an agent on behalf of all residents, ultimately, the responsibility of the Mitzvah devolves on each person separately.
Nature of Chanukah
This festival is famous for the victory achieved over the Syrian-Greeks. This was not a war about autonomy, nor did it concern national wealth and natural resources. It was a confrontation between two ideologies, two axioms, Greek philosophy versus Torah morality.
The key encounter was not the battles fought on the battleground, or disputations and discourses delivered from podiums and pulpits of Greek gymnasiums. It was a war that waged and raged within people’s homes, within dining rooms, bedrooms and lounge areas. Greece was trying to influence Jewish people to adopting their literature, sports and pantheon of gods. They were offering a different way of life, attempting to promulgate their culture and diminish Torah way of thinking.
In winning the war, the Hasmonean’s taught the supremacy of Torah’s doctrine. This was a victory achieved and to be celebrated within one’s home. Their triumph honed the message that the overarching direction of our lives is to be governed by Hashem and His Torah.
The home is the Jewish fortress and the atmosphere that pervades within holds the key for preserving the principles of Hashem’s dedicated army. Chanukah edifies us, by defining our home as a ‘Torah Home’ as opposed to a ‘Greek Home’ or ‘American Home’. Chanukah is about reclaiming our own culture. We should live and aspire to the truly important values, which Hashem has demonstrated, dictated and detailed in His Torah.
Lighting the Menorah
The base line accomplishment of this Mitzvah is aimed at the family, and not the individual. This is aptly captured by the Halachic cliché Ner Ish u’Baiso, ‘ a light for a man and his household’ i.e. the family lights as a unit. This festival seeks to realign the family orientation. It is only after that the general purpose and direction has been clearly delineated, that one can deal with the specifics appropriate for each person.
Torah is to be the guiding light within one’s household and therefore the candles are lit outside the home filtering the impressions coming in from outside. They act as a reminder that we seek to be selective about which ideals and dreams make their entrance to our homes. Therefore, the best place for the flames is where the private and public meet. Inside meets outside at the gateway to one’s courtyard, this is the perfect spot for the Chanukah lights.