By Rabbi Marc Rubenstein
7:12 PM PST, December 7, 2012
Hanukkah, meaning "dedication" in Hebrew, refers to the joyous eight-day celebration during which Jews commemorate the victory of the Maccabees over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E. and the subsequent liberation and "rededication" of the Temple in Jerusalem. The modern home celebration of Hanukkah centers around the lighting of the chanukiah, a special menorah for Hanukkah; unique foods, latkes and jelly doughnuts; and special songs and games.
This year, we kindle the first candle of Hanukkah on Saturday night and the last candle Dec. 15.
How to bless the candles
Q: How should the candles be placed in the chanukiah? Is there a correct order?
A: Yes, there actually is a correct order. The candles should be placed from right to left. On the first night, there should be one candle on the far right of the chanukiah, plus the shamash. On the second night, there should be two candles on the right, plus the shamash, and so on.
There was actually once a Talmudic dispute about whether all the candles should be lighted on the first night and then decrease each night or whether they should increase. The way that won out became the normative way, which is to increase the lights each night. The reason given is that sanctity should always be increased, not decreased.
Q: In what direction should the candles be lighted?
A: The candles are lighted in the opposite direction from how they are placed in the chanukiah. They are lighted from left to right, so that the newest candle is always lighted first. The helper candle, or shamash, is lighted first, and that candle is used to light all the other candles.
Q: In what direction do we add the candles to the chanukiah?
A: The candles are added to the chanukiah from right to left but are kindled from left to right. The newest candle is lit first. (On the Shabbat of Hanukkah, kindle the Hanukkah lights first and then the Shabbat candles.) Light the shamash — the helper candle set higher or lower than all the rest of the candles — first using it to kindle the rest of the Hanukkah lights as you say or sing:
"We kindle these lights because of the wondrous deliverance you performed for our ancestors. During these eight days of Hanukkah, these lights are sacred; we are not to use them but only to behold them, so that their glow may rouse us to give thanks for your wondrous acts of deliverance."
RABBI MARC RUBENSTEIN is the leader of Temple Isaiah of Newport Beach. The above piece originally appeared in the temple's newsletter.