Ḥanukkah Gelt (or Guilt)
When we think of the Ḥanukkah celebration, the image of the Ḥanukkiah (menorah) comes to mind: starting with one candle on the first night, and working our way up to eight candles on the last night. But one can actually observe Ḥanukkah perfectly well without a Ḥanukkiah at all. Lighting candles lined up on a simple sheet of aluminum foil, or small cups of oil with a simple wick dipped in, fulfills the mitzvah just the same. In fact, though the 1-8 candle method is mentioned, the Talmud does not consider it to be essential to Ḥanukkah observance at all. According to the Talmud, one fulfills the mitzvah by lighting a single candle each night of the holiday.
Another interesting feature of Ḥanukkah candles is that they are not to be used for any practical purpose. One cannot read by their light, eat by their light, count money, tie one’s shoes, or cook. We are only permitted to look at them and think about the Ḥanukkah story.
As important as remembering and publicizing the Ḥanukkah message is, the Talmud further reminds us that our families’ and our own well-being come first. “If [due to poverty] one has to choose between lighting a Shabbat candle and lighting a Ḥanukkah candle, the Shabbat candle takes precedent.” This, despite the fact that we light Shabbat candles every week and Ḥanukkah comes only once a year. Shabbat candles are lit for a purely practical purpose: to provide us with light in our home so we will not need to eat Shabbat dinner in darkness. Ḥanukkah candles can’t be used in that way. They are ceremonious and symbolic, and carry an important message, but that message is not more important than a simple happy family life.
Most of us are fortunate not to live in a situation in which we have to choose between light in our homes or Ḥanukkah observance. But there are plenty among us who are in that situation. As the fortunate among us enjoy Ḥanukkah with our families let us remember those people and do something to help them. Perhaps our Ḥanukkah gelt can go to someone who really needs it this year.
Shabbat Shalom and Ḥanukkah Sameaḥ.