Window or Doorway?

Where does one light the Chanukah Menorah?

In many communities the custom is to light it near a window so that it can be seen from the street. An integral part of the Mitzvah to light the Chanukah Menorah (or Chanukiah) is to publicize the miracle of Chanukah

However, the original place for the Menorah was at the entrance of the home. When it became untenable to light the Menorah outside because of weather conditions and the fear of attack from hostile anti-Semites, two customs emerged:

One custom was, as mentioned, to light the Menorah by the window, while the second is to light it in a doorway inside our homes; on the left side of the doorway opposite the Mezuzah. This was intended to retain, to some extent, the original custom of placing it in the doorway leading to the outside.

The Talmud records two opinions as to which side of the doorway it should be placed. One opinion says it should be placed on the right side of the doorway next to the Mezuzah, while the second opinion says we should place it on the left side, so that we are surrounded with two Mitzvos: the Mezuzah and the Chanukah lights. Both opinions agree that there is a connection between Chanukah and the Mitzvah of Mezuzah.

The Connection

What is the connection between the Mezuzah and the Chanukah menorah?

There is a Midrash that states that while under the influence of the Syrian Greeks the Jewish people neglected the Mitzvah of Mezuzah. As a result, they were punished measure for measure: the Syrian Greeks forcibly removed the doors from their homes, depriving the Jews of privacy and modesty. Moreover, they lost the protection to the home and its residents afforded by the Mezuzah. Tragically, by neglecting to observe the Mitzvah of Mezuzah they lost that protection.

Thus, when we celebrate the miracle of Chanukah, we also commemorate the restoration of the Mitzvah of Mezuzah by lighting the Menorah near the Mezuzah.

We must now try to understand the opinion and prevailing practice, which is to light the Menorah on the left side of the doorpost, opposite the Mezuzah. The other opinion – that we light the Menorah on the right side next to the Mezuzah – seems more logical. Jewish law places an emphasis on the right side of things over the left with respect to doing a Mitzvah. Why shouldn’t we apply this general rule to the Chanukah Menorah?

Going In or Going Out?

The Chassidic work Shem Mishmuel explains that while both Mezuzah and Chanukah lighting revolve around the entrance of our homes, they differ fundamentally in their objective.

The Mezuzah is intended to protect our homes from both physical and spiritual harm. The Mezuzah reminds us of G-d’s presence and insulates our homes from negative energy that lurks on the outside. We therefore place the Mezuzah on the right of the doorway as we enter our homes to indicate that we are focused on preventing the outside influences from following us inside.

The Chanukah Menorah, by contrast, is intended to take the light of Chanukah and extend it to the street, dispelling the darkness of the street.  Thus, when lighting the Menorah on the left it is really on the right from the perspective of the one who is leaving the house. The Mezuzah is about entering and the Menorah is about exiting.

Why Do We Now Light Indoors?

One can challenge the above analysis that the Menorah is all about spreading the light of Chanukah to the outside. That may have been accurate when we actually kindled the Menorah outside our homes. But the present custom is to light it inside the home. How does that relate to the idea that the Chanukah light is intended for the outside?

Upon reflection, it may be suggested that because of the dismally dark Galus we are presently in, the darkness of the “street” has already infiltrated our homes. So that when we light the Menorah inside the home, we do in fact illuminate and repel the negative energy of the street that has “moved” inside our homes.

Chanukah of the Future

A question remains:

Our Sages tell us that the Chanukah lights will still be kindled in the days of Moshiach. If the objective of the Chanukah menorah is to illuminate negative influences, why would we need that light in the Messianic Age, when the darkness will be banished?

The answer is that the Chanukah lighting will serve a higher function in that G-dly era. Rather than dispelling darkness, it will cast the more sublime G-dly light, in comparison to which all other sources of spiritual light will pale.

This idea will provide us with a deeper understanding about why the custom to light the Menorah outside changed so that we light the Menorah inside.

The first explanation given above is that as the Galus progressed, the darkness in the world also increased. And whereas in the past the home was immune to the negative energy on the outside, that has changed. The darkness has infiltrated our homes, and we must therefore light the Menorah inside to banish the outside influences that have penetrated the home.

There may be another, opposite reason for bringing the Menorah indoors. Rather than a sign of the deeper darkness that has entered our homes, it is because we are in many ways on a higher level than our forebears. Because we are closer to greeting Moshiach, we are already experiencing some of the light that will accompany him. The objective of lighting the Menorah in the Messianic Age will be, as stated, to introduce an unprecedented measure of Divine light. And therefore, in these last days of Galus, as we prepare for the Messianic Age, we can already begin to feel the introduction of a higher dimension of light.

There is a parallel to this idea in relation to the dissemination of the inner dimension of Torah, such as the mystical teachings of Chassidus, that has been revealed and popularized in recent times. Whereas in the Talmudic Era the mystical teachings of Judaism were exposed to only a select few, they have been made accessible to the entire world.

The explanation given for that phenomenon is twofold: first we are in greater need of these teachings since we are in the dark period of exile and the only way we can cope with its darkness and adversity is by imbibing these powerful teachings of Torah.

Second, it has been explained that the reason for the dissemination of the mystical parts of Torah in recent generation is because we are so close to the Messianic Age. We were therefore given a taste of these teachings that will be more fully revealed by Moshiach.

Similarly, with respect to the lighting of the Menorah, we need the greater power of Chanukah to illuminate the darkness that has infiltrated into our homes. In addition, we were also given access to the higher level of Light that enhances and elevates the conventional light. Even if our home is filled with light, including the light generated by the Shabbos candles, we still light the Chanukah Menorah to add a higher, Messianic dimension to the conventional light that fills our homes.

Good Shabbos and Chag Chanukah Sameach!

Rabbi Heschel Greenberg

Published in Holidays

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