Eight Lights from Bat Ayin
"And all eight days of Chanukkah, these
lights are holy - we have no permission to use them merely to gaze upon them"
Yeshivat Bat Ayin offers these eight lights - Short pieces for reflection while we look at the lights of Chanukkah -
Written by members of the learning community at the Yeshivah, students and teachers.
You can learn more about the Bat Ayin Yeshiva for men and the Bat Ayin Midrasha for women at www.batayin.org
A candle alone casts its own shadow. The greater the light, the
greater the shadow. According to the greatness of your soul and
the openness of your heart will be the size and strength of your
So many people try to do away with their darkness by quieting
their light. The dimmer I am, the less shadow there will be.
But there is another way.
A candle alone casts its own shadow.
Add another candle, and there is a little bit less.
Each flame brightens the other's darkness.
Keep on increasing the light with more single candles, and
eventually an entire world can be illuminated.
with the lighting of the first candle, we have shown that there is
hope, there is light amidst the darkness. So often we come out of
periods of darkness because we find someone who is glowing, or
someone who is glowing finds us, and that person guides us to
surer ground. The beauty and the challenge of the second night
of Hanukah is that there is light, but it is coming from a multiplicity
of places - even though it is the same light!! We are challenged
to free ourselves from thinking that light and guidance come from
only one source, and to find guidance and inspiration from
innumerable sources. In the laws of prayer, one who is praying
the Silent Prayer is encouraged not to lean on anything to the point
where if it was removed, he would fall. So too, we are
encouraged in our search to not depend on any one person or set
of circumstances in order to be happy. The blessing of this
second night is the encouragement to let go of our fears and allow
ourselves to be with G-d in all situations.
"you got to look out the side of your eyes, you got to think out the
side of your brain, you got to walk outside your life to where the
neighborhood changes." -ani difranco
Lately I've been praying on the edge. I daven on the doorsteps of
little schteibels, of great synagogues, of our yeshiva, even of the
room where I pray at home. Sometimes I start out inside the
synagogue, closer to the center, but I find myself heading for the
door at some point. There isn't a particular problem, and so I
don't leave, I just hang out there, half in, half out, the only place I
fit right now. And I think to myself: there are people who live this
way, all the time.
On Chanukah our tradition is to light the menorah "al petach
beito", at the entrance (or exit) of the home. Why do we light at
the doorstep? To focus our awareness on those who are marginal,
peripheral, on the outside looking in. There are "mezuzah people"
in this world, people who aren't inside a society or completely
outside either. Maybe they're peering through the windows to see
what kind of welcome they can expect; maybe they're leaving,
but they turn back for one last look. Or maybe they just feel they
belong there, that their home really is a sleeping bag on the top
step, up against the door.
We always have the mezuzah on the doorpost, guarding the
threshold, the liminal points, the in-between places. There always
needs to be a place for those who don't fit in. We all know that
when someone comes knocking on your door you let that person
in, give them something to drink and eat, and maybe even listen to
them a little. But what about those who aren't knocking? For
those people the mezuzah isn't enough- we need the light of
Chanukkah. The mezuzah tells you that you are welcome here;
the menorah lights up the dark streets outside, and actually calls
out an invitation. On Chanukah we go out looking for guests.
The menorah asks us some tough questions: Do we really need
everything we own, or can we spare something for the people
outside? What about the Jews who feel they have no place to go?
Have we made them welcome? Have we made room for them in
our synagogues and community centers?
And the questions extend beyond our own home. Have we
reached out? Have we illuminated the world outside? Have we
heard the cry of the street? It's cold outside, have we warmed
anyone today? It's dark out there, have we made it any lighter?
"Echad haya Avraham"- Abraham was one. He was alone and
marginalized by most of his society, but he started a non-violent
revolution that has lasted for millennia; his aloneness is a basic
dimension of Jewish existence. No matter how at home we feel,
all of us are in some way mezuzah people. At some point in our
lives, all of us confront the thresholds of existence, we feel
profoundly out of place, and it is in these moments that our
deepest self is revealed.
We need to spend more time on the boundary-markers of our
lives, because that is where we truly receive chidush- the light of
radical renewal. Is it scary? Are we more comfortable and secure
in our living rooms? If we are willing to reach out to them and
invite them into our home, we can learn a lot from mezuzah
people. We can learn courage, confidence, and how to be
creatively lonely when necessary.
I'm waiting myself to hear a call to come closer, to enter the shul,
to sit closer to the center again. Until I do, I'm going to keep
praying on the edge, and I'll be thinking of those who haven't yet
Chanukkah invokes anew each year a double miracle - the
miracle, on the natural plane, of the victory of the Maccabees
against impossible odds, and the miracle, on the transcendent
plane, of one day's worth of oil burning for eight days. Each day
we light yet another light, the entire house glowing as the holidays
moves toward its conclusion. Each candle burning before us a
miracle, each flame a swirling world. Yet how did they come to
be? By what hidden agency, by which anonymous spark?
Off to the side, functional, burning a bit lower than the others:
the shammash. The candle whose whole existence is to ignite, to
set others ablaze.
To whom shall we credit the victory in the battle for identity
against the Greeks of old?
To the entire people. The Maccabees were merely the
To whom belongs the eight days of wondrous burning, beyond all
To the oil - the rash, bold decision to light was merely the
To whom the glory of realizing the life-transforming, peoples-
unifying power of Torah in the fullness of time?
To all humanity - Am Yisrael has merely served as the
To whom the explosion of being, the fire of life within?
To all the cosmos - Hashem? - the Eternal "Shammash"
For whom do we light?
We used to light them outside our houses, in openings of
doorways and courtyards so that passersby could see, and recall.
We saw our candles only when we lit them.
Then some of us moved "upstairs" - we had no direct contact
with "the street".
We placed them in the window - they could see, we could see -
the boundaries were clearly demarcated.
At some point danger loomed, unspecified but palpable.
We moved the candles further inside to our tables
And informed ourselves alone of the miracle.
We lit inside to remind ourselves that we once lit outside.
Where most of us now live, there is no danger in lighting outside.
Yet the custom of lighting inside persists.
Why do we not resume lighting outside?
Perhaps we still need to light inside for the passer-by inside us all,
The one who glimpses in the window of our present
We bid that passer-by to linger just a bit longer,
Until the last footsteps are heard echoing the empty marketplace.
If one does not put enough oil in the candle to enable it to burn for
½ hour. It is as though one has lit no candle - one should put it
out, add oil, and light it again.
On the other hand, if one HAS placed enough oil to burn for ½
And for some reason the flame goes out - one doesn't need to
relight in order to have fulfilled the mitzvah.
Yet if our task is to publicize miracles,
why shouldn't we hover over the flames,
tending them and ensuring that they continue to burn?
It is in order to teach us that while we must light,
It is also all that we can do. We must light well, and then stand
back and let the candles burn.
We can only sew seeds, in soil we trust will bring their potential to
- we cannot grow in their stead.
We can only light candles with enough fuel to do it on their own
- we cannot burn in their stead.
When we light and move on, we are admitting that the task
extends beyond the realm of our own competence.
Light and move on - don't huddle your shadowing worry over the
flickering new flame.
Light it well, and, are you ready to move on? Ah, the miracle in
all its glory.
Each new night of Hanuka, we add a new light. But in addition to
the new light, we continue to light the candles of the previous
nights. This shows an essential relationship between the old and
the new. Without the new, the old is stale. What is old, be it
knowledge, tradition, or relationship, must be reinvigorated every
day,and reapplied. Without the old, the new feels capricious and
has nothing upon which to stand. It has no context.
Every Hanukah, as we are about to light, we revisit those precious
memories of time spent with the family, of gathering close in the
winter months, of sharing presents to try to express how much we
love each other. Also, each year we add a new layer of meaning,
and of appreciation. This year, may we be blessed to stand to the
challenge of maintaining both simultaneously, not to dwell in the
past, and also not to forget it.
the Temple was crumbling.
i started avoiding my prayers, studies and friends,
and spent interminable stretches of time in my room
reading literature of ill-repute
and staring at the walls.
when i took out the clippers one night
for the first time in two years
and with a few flicks of the wrist,
held my own severed beard in my hands...
i saw the outline of my face that i'd forgotten
like an old friend who'd suddenly reappeared
and shocked me into remembering
who i was.
the Temple had fallen.
i imagined leaving my place,
pursuing the career i left behind with my degree.
i envisioned throwing off the yoke of avodah,
the blanket of emunah, and
living without any particular goal,
returning to the arbitrary world
and then it was Chanukah
and then it was vacation
and then i davenned for the first time in two months
the most honest tefilah i could think of,
a simple plea
as i travelled up north by myself:
"Ribbono shel Olam... please let me meet someone tonight,
someone to help me kill the pain...
let her be just someone anonymous
who won't remember my name tomorrow,
won't want me to stay longer,
and won't want me to call.
"Mi L'Hashem Elai!"
and i prayed again for her on the dark, lonely pier
looking out over the Galillee
as if davenning for a last cruse of sacred oil:
"is she out there .?"
and she appeared moments after, calling my name.
calling my name because
she knew me,
she recognized my face,
she knew who i was.
and because she knew me,
and because she recognized my face,
and because she indeed knew who i was,
i could not kill the pain that night,
even after we got back to the hotel room
with the lights off,
my menorah lit again,
glowing with an inverted purpose...
because when she said no
and walked out of the room,
that G-d had sent me my last cruse of sacred oil.
and it burns today
more brightly than before.