The Rabbis taught: The law of Chanukah demands that every man should light one lamp for himself and his household’. (TB Shabbat 21b)
The formulation of Chanukah lights as a household mitzvah is unique and intriguing.
What is it about Chanukah that demands a household effort?
I have been mulling over this for the last week while preparing various Chanukah shiurim.
Unlike other festivals that begin at sunset, we are required to wait until it is fully dark to light the Menorah and place it near the window, so it can be seen by people passing by. The oil with which we light the Menorah represents comfort and luxury, it symbolizes affluence and satisfaction.
The act of burning the Menorah oil to illuminate the outside is symbolic of a deeper spiritual act we must perform on Chanukah – taking a luxury, and sacrificing it in order to illuminate the darkness outside our home, to brighten the night for strangers passing by.
The Sefat Emet (Rebbe Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger,1847-1905) suggests the reason this particular mitzvah is a household requirement is because spiritual illumination can be best accomplished by pooling together a family’s energy. This need for family security in order to fully realize the mitzvah can be understood best through the framework of Maslow’s Pyramid.
The American Psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) posited a five level hierarchy of human needs. The bottom two levels of the Pyramid consist of most basic human needs such as food, shelter, health and security. The upper two levels consist of such elevated needs as self-esteem and self actualisation. The middle level, which is the access point to the higher two, consists of love and belonging; needs that are best met in the context of family and close friendships. In other words, being secure in one’s own loving relationships is the foundation upon which the individual can come to the more elevated levels of altruism; extending love and compassion to strangers.
If kindling the Chanukah lights at night represents our responsibility to illuminate the darkness and alleviate the loneliness of those in need, then this can be achieved best when we feel secure within our own relationships. This may be why this particular mitzvah is singled out in its requirement that it be performed in the framework of a household.
This Chanukah, may we all find within the blessing of friendship and belonging the resources to self transcend by alleviating the loneliness, alienation and fragility experienced by those less fortunate than ourselves who occupy the darkening street.