The Hannukah Menorah which is also known as a “Hannukiah” is lit around nightfall on each night of Hannukah. Each night, the previous nights’ candle is lit with the new one(s) until all 8 candles have been lit (by the eighth night) along with the “helper” candle. There are specific ways on how to light a menorah which will be outlined below.
Why is the Menorah Lit?
Back 2,100 years ago, Israel was ruled by the Syrian-Greek Emperor Antiochus. Antiochus wanted to force upon the Jews of Israel the Hellenistic Ideology and rituals. He outlawed the study of the Torah by the Jews and the observance of all its commands. Antiochus also put up Greek idols in their Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
A small army of Jews (Maccabees) eventually battled the Greeks out of the land. The Temple was then reclaimed by the Jews on the Jewish date, the 25th day of the month Kislev. The Jews then wanted to light the Menorah but realized the Greeks had contaminated all the oil. There was only enough oil to last one night. Miraculously, the oil in the Menorah burned for 8 days and 8 nights and that is why the holiday of Hanukkah was established. This is the reason why the menorah is lit for eight nights.
The basic elements of a Menorah are 8 candle holders along with an additional (ninth) candle holder. The additional holder is called the “attendant” (shamash) which is used to light each of the candles on each of the nights of Hanukkah. One can either use candles or oil when it comes to how to light a Menorah. The Jewish custom when purchasing the Menorah is to also buy the most beautiful one. It is all about beautifying the “deed” (mitzvah) and expressing their appreciation to God and showing Him how they hold His commandments.
The 8 candles are to be aligned in a straight line where they are all at the same level. Some Menorahs, however, aren’t. This is because there are different sects of Jews and each holds a different way of things being done. It is required that the candles or oil are to burn for at least a half-hour each night they are lit on a weeknight. On a Friday evening, however, they are to stay lit for one and a half hours.
Who Lights The Menorah?
Both men and women are obligated to participate in the “deed” (mitzvah) of lighting the Menorah. In some families, the head of the household lights for the entire family while in other families, each person lights their own. Children find this exciting as they love lighting their own Menorahs. Many Jewish schools have the children create their own Menorahs they can light on Hanukkah. It is important for everyone to be present and involved in the lighting of the Menorah.
Where To Light The Menorah
Menorahs are to be lit in one’s own home. If one is traveling, they should set up their Menorah wherever they are staying (traveling Menorahs are available so they don’t take the usual larger one). There are 2 preferred places in the home of where the Menorah should be lit: in a central doorway or a windowsill facing the street. The choice is up to the family.
If lighting is in a central doorway, it is best to light it on a chair or small table near the doorpost which is opposite the “mezuzah.” A mezuzah is a religious scroll that is placed on the front door with passages from the bible which protect and watch over the home. This way when passing the doorway, one is surrounded by two “deeds” – the Menorah and the mezuzah. One can also light on a windowsill that faces the street. This way anyone who passes by sees the lit Menorah which reminds them of the miracle of Hanukkah.
When to Light the Menorah
Each year, the timing of when to light the Menorah differs as it all depends on when sunset occurs. The custom of many communities is to light the Menorah shortly after sunset. Some communities light after nightfall. Either way, whenever lit, it must stay lit for at least a half-hour. Regardless of any custom, when it comes to Friday, it must be lit before sunset (before the Sabbath comes in). Lighting the Menorah in general at the earliest possible is ideal, though it can be later if there are family members not home yet, etc.
How To Light A Menorah
- Arrange the candles or oil on the Menorah. When setting them up, start from the far right of the menorah working your way to the left each night.
- Gather everyone in the household so everyone can light together.
- Light the “attendant” (shamash) and hold it with your right hand, unless you are left-handed.
- While standing, the appropriate blessings should be recited.
- After the blessings are recited, start lighting the candles/oil starting from the left (newer candle) and working your way to the right.
Blessings When Lighting the Menorah
Before lighting the candles/oil on the Menorah, one is to recite the blessings. The blessings are thanking God for this special “deed” (mitzvah) and for the incredible Hannukah miracles. There is an extra blessing made on the first night of Hannukah or if it is the first time someone lights the Menorah.
After Lighting The Menorah
It is customary after lighting the Menorah to sing traditional Hanukkah hymns. It is also best to sit around the Menorah while the candles are burning for at least a half-hour. This is a great time for a family to play Hanukkah games such as spin the dreidle or eat delicious jelly donuts (sufganiyot) and fried potato pancakes (latkes).
If for any reason a flame from the Menorah goes out before the half-hour is up, it is best to relight it. Also, during this time the Menorah should be kept where it was lit and not to be moved. After the half-hour, any flames that go out do not need to be re-lit and the Menorah can be moved if needed.
Hanukkah is a special holiday for the Jews. Lighting a Menorah helps those remember what happened thousands of years ago and the victory of the Maccabees as well as remembering the miracle of how just a day’s worth of oil remained burning for 8 days and 8 nights. This miracle is the reason why Jews celebrate Hanukkah every year.
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Sources: How To Light The Menorah