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The Crown Jewel Out in the Streets: Four types of candles with four missions

 

The Chanukah Candles situated on a spectrum of candles used during the year

 

Candles as a Symbol

The Bible uses the candle as a symbol for a number of different things. First, we have a verse that states that “A mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light.”[1] Every mitzvah is a candle, a concrete act that grasps and then contains the otherwise ephemeral spiritual light, or revelation, of God.

Next, we find that the soul is also likened to a “candle,” as in the verse, “God’s candle is the human soul.”[2] The relationship between the soul and the mitzvah is that the flame kindled by the performance of a mitzvah can be used to light the soul’s candle—making the soul shine.

Now that the soul is on fire and illuminating, a third proverbial candle comes to the foreground—the entire person, and particularly the body, is likened to a candle. This image is discussed in length in the Zohar and is one of the central topics of the Tanya.[3] In this image, the body represents the wick, the mitzvot performed by the person are the oil or fuel that allows the wick to hold on to the flame thereby allowing the light of the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, to rest upon a person. If we are always engaging in mitzvot, this gives us the spiritual fuel to constantly illuminate our head, face, and body with Divine light.

Five Commandments Performed with Candles

While all mitzvot fit into the proverbial candle metaphor, some mitzvot are literally performed with candles. The literal candles in Jewish practice are five: 1) the candles in the Menorah, the Candelabra placed in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, 2) the Shabbat candles lit in every home on Friday evening, 3) the Havdalah candle lit to signify the transition from the Shabbat to the weekdays on Saturday night, and 4) the candle used to check for chametz, leavened products, the night before Passover, and finally, 5) the Chanukah candles. These 5 candles correspond to the most central five sefirot, which lead us from an inner-oriented spiritual focus to spreading the light outwards. Let us begin with the latter.

The Menorah’s candles in the Holy Temple are hidden in the Sanctuary. The Shabbat candles are placed within the sanctuary of the Jewish home. The Havdalah candle signifies the transition from the sanctity of Shabbat to the mundane weekdays, thus already breaking out of the limits of pure holiness. The candle used to check for chametz goes into the cracks and crevices, which already signify the less habitable parts of the home. Finally, the Chanukah candles are literally placed out in the street. The spectrum of Judaism’s candles represents the inner transition from radiating “to a “light that shines for others.”[4] They highlight our goal of taking the light that is private and used to illuminate ourselves and using it to bring light to others, even those who have no connection to the light of the Torah.

Now, let us see how these candles correspond to the different sefirot, each one representing another layer of our consciousness. The Menorah candles represent the sefirah of crown or the super-consciousness, which cannot be experienced directly, but inspires all that we do with our conscious mind. The Shabbat candles correspond to the intellectual sefirot, wisdom and understanding. Though the intellectual powers are conscious, they still illuminate only the self and for their light to be expressed externally, they require other forces such as speech and action. The Havdalah candle corresponds to the sefirah of knowledge, the psychological faculty which turns one’s intellectual knowledge into an active and influential force readying it to act upon oneself and upon external reality. The candle used to check for chametz captures the necessity of first locating and then annihilating our egocentric tendencies (symbolized by chametz) before translating our inner light into the emotions with which we relate to other people. Thus, the chametz candle corresponds to the emotional sefirot from loving-kindness to foundation. Finally, with the Chanukah candles, we emerge into the most external layer of consciousness that transforms directly into action transforming the light into “light that illuminates others.” Hence, the Chanukah candles correspond to the sefirah of kingdom.

What the Chanukah Candles Taught Me

In all, while the five candles exist on a spectrum carrying their light from the innermost recesses of holiness to the space that lies beyond the sacred, the ability to illuminate the outside world is already embedded within the candles in the Temple’s Menorah. The Chanukah candles manifest the essential light that was present all along within the Sanctuary, or, in translation to our individual selves, that always hovered out of sight in the super-conscious powers of our souls. So, the Chanukah candles carry a very important lesson: even if we do not think we have the capacity to light up the world, we must remember that if we dig deep within, we will find that we already possess all that is needed to succeed in transforming reality.

[1]. Proverbs 6:23.

[2]. Ibid. 20:27

[3]. Tanya ch. 35 based on Zohar 3:187a.

[4]. For more on the difference between these two types of illumination (or light), see Wonders Issue 46 (Toldot), p. 11. See also Rav Ginsburgh’s Sod HaShem Liye’reiav p. 46 and Pelach HaRimon Shemot, pp. 22-23.

[1]. Proverbs 6:23.

[2]. Ibid. 20:27

[3]. Tanya ch. 35 based on Zohar 3:187a.

[4]. For more on the difference between these two types of illumination (or light), see Wonders Issue 46 (Toldot), p. 11. See also Rav Ginsburgh’s Sod HaShem Liye’reiav p. 46 and Pelach HaRimon Shemot, pp. 22-23.

 

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