D’var Torah: Nurturing the soul on Hanukkah

Rabbi Brad Horwitz

By Rabbi Brad Horwitz

Hanukkah is often referred to as the Festival of Lights. We add one candle to the Hanukkah menorah each of the eight nights of Hanukkah to commemorate the miraculous victory of the Macabees as well as the miracle of the small cruse of oil that lasted eight days instead of one. When we look at the candle light and recite the accompanying blessings we are in essence thanking God for these past miracles and for the daily miracles in our lives today.

Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe from 1950-1994, spoke of the connection between candle light and the responsibility of Jews in today’s world. He writes, “A Jew is a lamp lighter on the streets of the world. In older days, there was a person in every town who would light the gas street-lamps with a light that he carried at the end of a long pole. On the street corners, the lamps were there in readiness, waiting to be lit: a lamp-lighter has a pole with a flame supplied by the town. He knows that the fire is not his own, and he goes around lighting all the lamps on his route…Today, the lamps are there, but they need to be lit…A Jew is one who puts personal affairs aside and goes around lighting up the souls of others with the light of Torah and mitzvot. Jewish souls are in readiness to be lit…That is the true calling of a Jew- to be a lamplighter, an igniter of souls.”

After reading this parable by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Hanukkah candles take on a whole new layer of meaning. The candles now also serve as a reminder that we have responsibility to do good in the world and to be “an igniter of souls.” And while we have responsibility to ignite the souls of others, we also must light our own souls and find meaning and purpose to our own lives.

So as we celebrate the Festival of Lights again this year, I encourage us all to find a way to kindle light in our own souls and to shine our light into the world by doing acts of loving kindness and acts of tzedakah for our friends, family and community. Best wishes for a festive and joyful Hanukkah season.

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Rabbi Brad Horwitz is Director of the Helene Mirowitz Center of Jewish Community Life at the Jewish Community Center of St. Louis. Horwitz is also Immediate Past President of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.