There are precious moments in our lives that we all wish to make memorable and lasting. Lighting the menorah is one of those special moments.
Many of us simply light the menorah and move on.
The key to success: Don’t rush through this precious mitzvah. Slow down. Take in the moment.
Pious Jews were known to have recited the entire book of Psalms sitting by the menorah. Some have the custom reflect, think, and meditate while gazing at the candles.
These customs are meant to deepen the Chanukah kindling experience. They may be best captured in an old Chanukah saying: “Sit by the candles and listen to the story that they tell.”
The following are tried-and-true ways to make your lighting more engaging.
- Gather the Family Together: Make sure everyone is present.
There are some sources that suggest that age-old custom of playing the dreidel was merely meant to ensure that the children would be present and the lighting and stay for a while (getting our children’s attention is not a new problem!) Simply gathering the family for the lighting already transforms this moment into a happening.
- Turn Off the Lights.
There are some who have the tradition to turn the lights off in the room. By doing so give center stage to the star of the show – the light of the Menorah. Make sure everyone has a menorah to light – especially the children. It is a thrill for kids to light the menorah and to watch it flicker and burn.
- Gather Chairs Facing the Menorah.
Following the lighting sit down together. Share a thought or tell a story. Share the Chanukah story, or a story of a modern day Jewish hero that highlights the themes of the day. Those that are blessed to have grandparents present, sit and listen to their story. They can share a Chanukah memory from their childhood. How beautiful it is to experience before our own eyes the passing of tradition from generation to generation!
- No Work Please.
Jewish law encourages that no work be done in the house while the flames remain lit. Put aside phone calls, Facebook, answering emails. Give your total attention to the beauty of the night, the beauty of your children and your family. It’s the ‘holiday of the home’ says the Talmud. Let nothing interfere with letting the light of Chanukah fill your home.
- Dance Together.
Once the candles are lit play joyous music. Take your children, your family, and your friends by the hand – and dance. The days of Chanukah are meant to fill us with happiness. Dancing is one of the best ways to feel the joy. There is something about holding hands and lifting one’s feet that brings a smile to everyone’s face.
- A Private Prayer.
The beloved hassidic master Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that the time that the candles are lit is a sacred time for prayer. After all, in the eyes of the mystics these aren’t just any candles. These flames connect us to the miraculous and eternal.
Do you have a friend who, unfortunately, is ill? Is there a family member or friend that is going through hard times? Pray for them at this time. Choose a prayer from the book of Psalms or offer personal words. In the presence of the holy flames we can open ourselves to heartfelt prayers.
- Invite Friends and Family to Share the Lighting with You.
A great rabbi once said – “If you want your holiday to be meaningful give it to somebody else”. The more we share the holiday with others the greater the experience will be for ourselves and for our family.
- A Celebratory Dinner.
What a beautiful custom to celebrate Chanukah with a meal that honors the holiday. While the menorah is lit, sit around the dinner table, indulge in the delicious holiday foods. Some eat fried potato latkes, others eat jelly donuts, and some have the custom of serving dairy delights. These delicious foods give us a real ’taste’ of the miracle.
The winter months, when the daylight hours are the shortest, are the darkest time of the year. We all need the Chanukah light. Our souls yearn for it.
It is not beyond us to transform these days into an experience of deep meaning and joy. The eight nights of Chanukah offer many precious gifts; they inject us with hope, provide us with encouragement and renewal that will carry us for the weeks and months to come.
Gaze at the glow of the Chanukah lights and listen to the amazing story they tell.