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Three Lights: Hanukkah, Shabbat and Havdallah

December 14, 2016 | by Karen Wolfers Rapaport

Understanding Judaism’s requirement to generate light on three different occasions.

“And God saw the light, that it was good” (Genesis, 1:4).

From the beginning of creation, light has been seen as a positive, dynamic life force.

Light dispels darkness so forcefully that when you strike a match in the darkest of corners, such as in a cave, its small light overwhelms the darkness immediately. Light is that powerful.

In Judaism, we are required to generate light through candles on three different occasions.

We light candles just before the arrival of Shabbat. We light candles throughout the eight days of Hanukkah. We light candles at the conclusion of Shabbat during the Havdallah service.

The glow that radiates from each of these candles represents a different manifestation of light in our lives.

Shabbat Candles

The Shabbat candles are lit indoors. They represent Judaism’s inner light. This is the light that represents the sanctity of marriage, family, and the blessedness we try to strive for within our home.

The Shabbat candles remind us of how we are to conduct ourselves with our closest circle, when no one is looking. When the outside world is shut out, what kind of person are we? What is the quality of life being produced in our hearts, in our hearth?

Hanukkah Candles

The Hanukkah candles used to be lit outside the front door. This shows that they are primarily intended to illuminate the public domain. It was only the fear of persecution that took the Hanukkah candles inside. As those darker periods of history have transitioned into more stable times for the Jewish people, once again the Hanukkah candles can now be moved and lit outside.

The Hanukkah candles remind us of how we are meant to radiate our light outward to the world, towards humanity. What are we positively adding to the cosmos? Are we using our gifts to make an impact? Are we uplifting the principles we believe in? Are we unafraid to live as Jews and uphold the freedom for which the Maccabees and others so valiantly fought? Can we give inspiration to others whose freedoms are currently being denied?

The Havdallah Candle

The Havdalah candle which we use at the conclusion of Shabbat is formed from a handful of intertwined wicks. This candle is reflective of what Havdallah represents – the separation of Shabbat from the rest of the week. It reminds us of the blending between the “private” light of Shabbat and the “public” light of Hanukkah. It is the union between the inner light, generated when we are with those we are most devoted and intimate with, married to the outer light, generated during the week when we go out of our inner cocoon and bring the light of faith and hope to our world.

On Hanukkah we are given a mission to go beyond ourselves and light up the world. We add light to the universe through our actions and Jewish values that uphold our unique faith. Volunteer. Teach. Inspire. Give. Send messages of justice, truth, and love to those who need it most.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, we can curse the darkness, or we can light a light.

May we all help light up the world this Hanukkah.

With thanks to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

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