Every Jewish custom and surely each mitzvah contains a dimension which transcends its individual message. It is part of the totality of Jewish practice, a pattern of conduct which distinguishes our people as a unique nation.
The uniqueness of the Jewish people is not expressed by seeking isolation from the other nations around them. On the contrary, the uniqueness of the Jews is expressed by the fact that they are "one nation, scattered and dispersed among the nations." Nevertheless, "their faith is different than that of the nations." Therefore, a Jew seeks to influence his surrounding environment, encouraging other Jews to increase their Jewish practice and spreading goodness among the other nations.
This reflects how, "a mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light." G-d, Himself, gave the light of Torah and its mitzvos to the Jews to illuminate their individual lives, not only the spiritual aspects of their lives, but also its material dimensions, not only in the realm of mitzvos per se, but also in regard to ordinary mundane activity.
Although this quality characterizes the Torah and its mitzvos as a whole, there are certain mitzvos which emphasize this message, for example, the lighting of the Chanukah candles which demonstrate in an obvious manner how, "a mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light."
This message is also conveyed by the Shabbos and festivals candles lit by Jewish women which bring the light of holiness into the material aspects of a Jew's life. Our Sages ordained the kindling of those lights, "so that one would not stumble over wood or stone," i.e., the light of the mitzvah prevents a person from stumbling over an obstruction.
Similarly, in regard to mitzvos as a whole. Their intent is to illuminate the physical dimensions of the world. This light encompasses any possible obstructions and transforms their nature, allowing them to be used for a positive and holy purpose.
The Chanukah candles expresses a like theme. They differ from the Shabbos candles; we cannot benefit from the light of the Chanukah candles and can merely look at them, and hence, the house should also be illuminated with other light as well. Nevertheless, they also produce light, and, indeed, are placed, "at the outside of the entrance to one's home," to illuminate the public domain as well. Thus, they too, reflect how "a mitzvah is a lamp."
The Chanukah candles teach a further lesson. An additional candle is added each night. Although the mitzvah is fulfilled in a complete manner on the first day by lighting a single candle, on the second day, this is not sufficient and another light is added. This teaches us that a Jew should not remain satisfied with his present standing. Even when he is living a Jewish life which is complete in every respect, he must continually strive to add further light and to share that light with others.
This is expressed through tzedakah, tzedakah in a material sense, helping a person in need even when expense is involved and similarly, tzedakah, in a spiritual sense, helping a person proceed in Torah and mitzvos (and doing so even when an expense is involved).
This course of behavior will arouse G-d's blessings. He will grant us health, success in earning a livelihood, and security, so that we can increase our efforts to spread Judaism and goodness in our surroundings and throughout our entire sphere of influence, however large it is.
The pattern of adding a new light continues for seven days, thus representing a complete weekly cycle. This influences each of the days of the week and indicates that we are given the potential to increase our Jewish activities, to become "more Jewish" in the manner in which we think and the manner in which we behave, beginning from the recitation of Modeh Ani before washing hands in the morning, and reflected in eating only kosher food and the like. Similarly, we must increase our activities with others. In simple terms, wherever a person is found, he must seek out other Jews who are lacking Jewish knowledge and draw them close to Jewish life.
In particular, in regard to this gathering: the awareness that G-d has granted us the opportunity to meet once again this year, should spur us to use this gift of life to express true life, adding to our own Jewish conduct and, in the spirit of "Love your fellowman as yourself," sharing our Judaism with others.
We will conclude the gathering by distributing money to be given to tzedakah -- "tzedakah brings close the redemption." May we proceed, "with our youth and our elders," from the youngest child to old men of 120, to the Holy Land, to Jerusalem, and to the Beis HaMikdash and may this be in the immediate future.
- (Back to text) In particular, this involves spreading the observance of the Seven universal laws commanded to Noach and his descendants. These laws center on the theme of establishing a stable environment. This involves living ordered lives, seeking not to damage a colleague's property. On the contrary, we must stress the importance of helping others, even when doing so involves an expense.
- (Back to text) It is customary for girls to fulfill the mitzvah of kindling the Shabbos candles before they reach Bas Mitzvah and definitely, before they marry. (The Lubavitch custom is to begin lighting at the age of three.) Thus, all Jewish girls are trained to fulfill the function of illuminating their homes with the true light, the light of Judaism.
- (Back to text) To draw an analogy relevant to our present circumstances: When lighting a Chanukah Menorah in a large synagogue, the Menorah must be large enough to be seen by everyone present.