“If it was Extinguished, One is Not Bound to Relight it”
The flickering lights in the Chanukiyah are truly heart-warming. These candles, melting away under the flames, draw our gazes and publicize the wondrous miracles that Hashem performed for us in those days. With this in mind, the halakha exempting us from relighting a candle that went out seems puzzling.
According to halakha, even if the candle had burned for just a split second, we have fulfilled the mitzvah. This is a difficult commandment to fulfill. It is quite natural to want to relight an extinguished candle, just as we would correct any other mistake, so that the candle can burn alongside all the other burning candles. Yet Jewish law tells us that we mustn’t be overzealous. We must understand that we don’t control everything, we aren’t responsible for everything, and our only obligation is to light the candle. Whatever happens after the candle was lit is no longer our responsibility.
Another halakha helps us elaborate on this perspective. During Chanukah, we are allowed to use any kind of wick, oil or wax to light the Chanukah candles. This list includes the wicks and oils that we may not use to keep the commandment of lighting the Shabbat candles. It isn’t necessary to seek out choice materials for Chanukah. We may fulfil our obligation with the most basic of materials available.
These two mitzvot can be explained through the notion that by using simple and accessible materials, by resisting the urge to re-light an extinguished candle, and by ceasing all other activities while lighting these candles, we are providing more space for the Divine Presence. The festival of Chanukah commemorates the Hasmonean struggle against the phenomenon of trying to resemble the Greeks and adopting their culture. They did this under the banner of “Whoever stands with Hashem – come to me!” However, before long, the Hasmonean dynasty forgot this motto and became corrupt.
The festival of Chanukah beckons us to struggle against the darkness in two ways. The first is to kindle the fire, actively spreading the light and banishing the darkness, which is echoed in the expression: “Turn away from evil and do good”. The second, no less important but discussed less than the first, is to “let go” in that will let the light of the Holy One, blessed be He, influence and enrich the world. As we exclaim in our prayers: “His glory fills the entire land”.
Atirat Granevich is a fellow in the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL)