How to Light a Menorah
by Monique Brumbach, UMJC Executive Director
Hanukkah begins tomorrow night! Now that my husband and I have a little boy in our life, we've come to enjoy the holiday more than ever. There's nothing like watching the flames of the hanukkiah dance in his eyes, and hearing his squeaky voice while singing Maoz Tzur.
My husband is a rabbi, which means he serves as a regular resource for congregants who are making a mitzvah for the first time ever ... or the first time in a very long while.
Even rabbis and rebbetzins sometimes forget the answers to simple questions. Which means that every year we seem to have the same argument about the right way to load and light the candles in the menorah. "It's right to left!" "No, I swear I remember that it's left to right!" We usually count on Google to solve our debate. (For the record, we LOAD the candles from right to left, and LIGHT them from left to right.)
In the spirit of getting it right, here are four steps to lighting your menorah, beginning tomorrow night.
STEP 1: Clean the menorah
Does your menorah still have the gunk from last year? Get rid of it. The new candles will sit in the cups properly, and melt with less mess if you deal with this now. There are a million ways to do this, which depend on how your menorah is made. You can stick it in the freezer, put it in the oven, or dip it in a bowl of hot water. Any way you choose, use a gentle approach to preserve your heirloom. No more hacking at it with your fingernail or a butter knife!
STEP 2: Find the right spot
On Hanukkah, we have an obligation not only to light the menorah, but also to publicize the miracle. This is especially meaningful, as the story of Hanukkah begins with a Greek despot's decree making Judaism illegal. By the time the Maccabees won their guerrilla war against the Syrian Greeks and rededicated the Temple, one thing became clear: we must always live as if we are free.
In practice, this means we should light a menorah "in public" rather than behind closed doors. Some families light the menorah in the front window of their home. (If that's a fire hazard in your home, you can use an electric menorah in its place.) In the religious communities of Jerusalem, many Jewish families light and keep their menorah in glass boxes out on the street!
STEP 3: Load and light the candles
On the first night of Hanukkah, load a single candle into the candle holder that is furthest to the right when facing the menorah. On the second night, load the first candle and then the second immediately to the left of it. On the third night, load the first, then the second, then the third ... and so on. By the time you get to the 8th night of Hanukkah, your menorah should be full.
Every night you will also load a "helper" candle, called the shamash. Use a match or a lighter to light the shamash candle, then extinguish the match. The shamash will light all of the other candles. Don't use the match to light the other candles! The shamash should always light the newest candle first. This means that we load the candles from right to left, and light the candles from left to right.
STEP 4: Make the blessings
We make two blessings immediately after lighting the menorah. In English, they are:
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sanctifies us by His commandments, and commands us to kindle the Hanukkah lights. Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in those ancient days at this season.
On the first night, we also add Shehecheyanu: Blessed are you, Lord our God, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
Many Messianic Jewish families also add a blessing that acknowledges the light of our Messiah, Yeshua. Consult your local Messianic Jewish rabbi for the exact phrasing that your community uses.
Mazal tov! You've fulfilled the mitzvot of lighting the menorah and publicizing the miracle. Now it's time to sing your favorite Hanukkah songs at the top of your lungs and fill up on chocolate gelt, latkes, and greasy donuts. Chag Hanukkah Sameach!
In this season of light, consider giving in support of the Union. For 39 years, the Union has been at the forefront of Messianic Jewish community life. Help us build the Messianic Jewish future, so that our light doesn't go out in a single generation. Help us raise up a new generation of young leaders, and spread the light of our Messiah Yeshua within the Jewish community and beyond.