WHEN CELEBRATING THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS, WE SELDOM STOP TO THINK OF LIGHT AS A PHYSICAL PHENOMENON. WE USUALLY TAKE LIGHT, ONE OF G-D’S MOST BENEFICIAL CREATIONS TO LIFE, FOR GRANTED. AS ALBERT EINSTEIN TAUGHT US, LIGHT IS MORE THAN WHAT WE HAD PREVIOUSLY KNOWN, BOTH PHYSICALLY AND SPIRITUALLY.
By Rabbi Ariel Yeshurun
We all know, as early as our kindergarten years, that Chanukah celebrates light. We all know the Chanukah children’s songs, abundant and redundant with the word “light.” But what is light and why do we celebrate it? I believe that understanding the physical properties of light, the phenomena we so much take for granted, will allow us to understand its spiritual properties as well.
What we see in the natural world all around us are physical symbolisms that metaphorically mirror a higher parallel spiritual reality. So I propose something somewhat revolutionary. I propose that by discovering the true physical properties of any natural phenomena we can reverse-engineer to simulate its synonymous spiritual reality.
But for that I will need to teach you a little bit, a tinge, of physics.
Around the year 1700, Sir Isaac Newton reached the conclusion that light was a group of particles, what is known as the corpuscular theory. During that same time, there were other theorists who proposed that light was a wave, or what is known as the wave theory. And so the great physicists continued to debate and deliberate the true nature of light over the centuries.
However, in 1905, over one hundred years ago, Albert Einstein produced a scientific paper that would transform our understanding of light and propel Einstein as one of the world’s greatest scientists ever. The year 1905 is known as Albert Einstein’s annus mirabilis—year of miracles. Within a few months, Einstein completed a number of important research papers. These papers included his theory of special relativity as well as perhaps the most well-known physics formula of all time, the famed equation E=mc².
Each one of these newly released radical theories would transform the way we see the universe and would become the foundation of modern physics. Einstein proposed something quite subversive and rebellious in physics terms. He supported neither theory on light! He suggested that light behaved not like a wave and not like particles, but rather, light behaved like both wave and particles!
This represented a sharp break from the establishment. The magnitude of Einstein’s renegade departure from the mainstream tradition was so rogue and extreme that his theory was not accepted for two decades. As you all know, it ultimately earned him a Nobel Prize in Physics.
Now what does all this high school science have to do with Chanukah?
Having established that light behaves as both wave and particles, let us now reflect. Armed with this knowledge we can shed light—no pun intended—on the meaning of the name Chag HaUrim, Holiday of Lights, a name commonly used for Chanukah. If the celebration is of light then it should have been named Chag HaOhr, “light” in the Hebrew singular tense. Urim are lights, in the Hebrew plural tense, which is perfectly aligned with the Einstein dichotomy of wave and particles! We are celebrating this symbolic dichotomy about light, hence Urim in the plural.
We understood the duality of physical light, but what is the duality of light in the spiritual sense?
Light in the Torah represents enlightenment, inspiration and spiritual illumination. Light in this content of inspiration can either wash over you like a wave of ethereal radiance or arrive in bite-size dosages of particles and sparks. One form of inspiration is a short-lived, overwhelming wave-surge of a blinding spiritual rush and the other, perhaps less sensational, is more consistent, easier to handle, slowly administered, successive spiritual particles.
That’s the significance of Chanukah. It celebrates both the triumphant and truly miraculous victory over the Greeks, which undoubtedly created an overwhelmingly powerful spiritual wave, and the small but steady miracle of the tiny flask of oil that burnt slowly for eight days, flickering away quietly, giving out minimal light, relying on a modest amount of oil.
Which aspect of light is greatest? I think you know the answer. “Seeing the light” for the first time, making that initial epiphany discovery may be romantic and spiritually intoxicating, but it’s the hard work and due diligent, slow, painstaking soul-searching journey that truly enlightens you and transforms you. Man’s humanity and divinity come from the constant struggle to overcome his predilections and inclinations. Man’s triumph is in his consistent effort to not succumb to impulse and desire. That’s a lifetime of trial and error, success and failure.
But ultimately those “small steps for man” are “one giant leap for mankind!”
My wife and children join me in wishing you and yours a happy Chanukah!
GuideBy Chani Rosenblum
GuideBy Chani Rosenblum
- In the Chanukah menorah or Chanukiah, all candles must be of the same height except for the Shamash, which is the special “attendant” candle that we use to kindle the other lights. The lights must also be placed in a straight line.
- The Menorah should be set up either by the door, (on a chair or small table near the doorpost, opposite the mezuzah). Or on a windowsill facing the street, as long as it is less than thirty feet above ground-level.
- The menorah is lit shortly after sunset, or after nightfall. On Friday night the menorah must be lit before Shabat candles, and after lit they shouldn’t be moved nor reignited. On Saturday night it is lit after nightfall, (after Havdala).
- Chanukah candles should be placed or added from right to left, and lit from left to right. We must make sure that the candles are long enough to remain lit for at least half an hour after nightfall.
- Before lighting the Chanukah candles with the Shamash, which should always be lit first, you must recite the respective blessings. Once finished lighting the candles, return the Shamash to its place.
- Each night, we place a new candle, not counting the Shamash, so that on the second night of Chanukah, for example, we place two candles; the third night we place three, and so forth, so the number of Chanukah candles in your Hanukkiyah matches the night of Chanukah.
- Both men and women light the Chanukah menorah, or participate in the household menorah lighting. Children are encouraged to light their own menorahs. Students and singles who live in dormitories or their own apartments should kindle menorahs in their own rooms.
- Because of the great significance of oil in the story of the Chanukah miracle, it is traditional to serve foods cooked in oil. Among the most popular Chanukah dishes are potato latkes and sufganiot.
- It is also customary to eat cheesy foods on Chanukah, in commemoration of the bravery of Yehudit.
- It is customary to play Sevivon.