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Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Festival of Lights: Part II

"Oh Hanukkah, oh Hanukkah
Come Light the Menorah"

Day 2 of the "Festival of Lights" is upon us:

When it comes to celebrating Hanukkah, most people recognize the menorah as a significant component to this Jewish festival -- almost like a Jewish version of a Christmas tree.

Well, it's not a Christmas tree, nor is it some pretty decoration used once a year to light one's window. The reality is that the menorah has a very special purpose which is central to the Hanukkah festival.

As you can tell from the picture above, or from any menorahs you may have seen in the past, the Hanukkah Menorah has a total of nine candle holders, four on the right and left side with the "Shamash" candle being raised in the middle -- though this isn't a requirement. Many menorahs position the Shamesh in different locations.

How to Light a Menorah

In reality, there is quite a lot of "etiquette" when it comes to lighting the menorah. First, the menorah should be positioned near a window facing the street or on the left-hand side of your home. Next, it should always be remembered that the menorah is NOT to be lit until nightfall. Once nightfall has come you begin lighting the menorah by placing the first candle on the far right. Next, you must light the Shamash candle, which is used to light all of the other candles on the menorah (it is important to remember that you DO NOT light the candles on the menorah via a match, etc. The Shamash is what lights the other candles). Though the Shamash (or "attendant" candle) has the primary function of lighting the other candles, it is not extinguished so that in case a candle blows out, the Shamash could be used again to relight it. In addition, Hanukkah lights are forbidden to be used for any practical reason (they are exclusively used for the celebration) so if a candle were ever needed for any practical reason the Shamash would be employed (obviously this isn't too important in our modern day, but it was in ancient times).

Once the Shamash has been lit, all family, fiends, etc. gather around the menorah and recite the following blessings:
Blessing 1:
Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam Asher Kiddeshanu Be-mitsvotav Ve-tsivanu Lehadlik Ner Shel khanuka

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.

Blessing 2:
Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam She-asa Nissim La-avoteynu Ba-yyamim Ha-hem Ba-zzman Ha-zze

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.

Blessing 3:
Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam She-hekheyanu Ve-kiymanu Ve-higgi'anu La-zzman Ha-zze

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.

***It is important to note that the 3rd blessing is only recited on the FIRST night of Hanukkah, while the 1st and 2nd blessings are recited each night.***
One the blessings are pronounced, the Hanukkah candles are lit (again, with the Shamash), after which most observers will recite the "Hanerot Hallalu" prayer/song, which is as follows:
Al hanissim ve'al haniflaot
Al hatshu-ot ve'al hamilchamot
She-asita la'avoteynu
Bayamim hahem, bazman hazeh
Al yedey kohanecha hakdoshim.

Vechol shmonat yemey Chanukah
Hanerot halalu kodesh hem,
Ve-ein lanu reshut lehishtamesh bahem
Ela lirotam bilvad
Kedai lehodot leshimcha
Al nissecha veal nifleotecha ve-al yeshuotecha.

We light these lights
For the miracles and the wonders,
For the redemption and the battles
That you made for our forefathers
In those days at this season,
Through your holy priests.

During all eight days of Chanukah
These lights are sacred
And we are not permitted to make
Ordinary use of them,
But only to look at them;
In order to express thanks
And praise to Your great Name
For your miracles, Your wonders
And your salvations.
Following the Hanerot Hallalu, many families will continue to sing traditional Hanukkah songs, recite various Psalms, and exchange gifts. The menorah candles are allowed to burn for AT LEAST 30 minutes.

On the following days of Hanukkah, a new candle is added to the menorah (1 per day). Remember to add the next candle to the left of the previous one from the night before. When lighting these candles remember to always light the NEWEST candle first. And again, the first 2 blessings are given on nights 2-8, but the 3rd blessing is not.

That's it! You are now prepared to light the menorah!

Chag Urim Sameach!

Here is a video that provides a good illustration of how to properly light the menorah:

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