Beit Hillel says: On the first day, one kindles one light, and from then on, gradually increases [one by one].Talmud Bavli Shabbat 21b
Elevating in Sanctity, Through Lighting Candles
We are living in Beit Hillel’s world. On the first night of Hanukah, we dust off our hanukiot and insert one candle to celebrate the beginning of the holiday. On night two, we insert and light two new candles, and so on and so forth.
(See more: How to light the Hanukah Candles)
The Gemara cannot decide whether Rabbi Yosei bar Avin or Rabbi Yosei bar Zevida taught that Shammai’s reasoning was according to the Sukkot sacrifices; when the Holy Temple stood, the priests would sacrifice thirteen bulls on the first day and one fewer each day after that.
Hanukah was, after all, the Maccabees’ substitute celebration for Sukkot, after they were unable to celebrate during the Greek occupation of the Temple.
I’m more interested in Beit Hillel’s reading.
According to one of the Rabbis Yosei, Beit Hillel reasoned that we must always elevate in sanctity; we must not lower. Accordingly, we increase in light on each night of Hanukah.
At the darkest part of our year, Hanukah reminds us to keep pursuing the light, to keep increasing our attempts at everyday holiness. Those little candles serve as reminders to us to dive even deeper into mitzvot from one day to the next—increasing our donations to the causes we support, expanding our practices of kashrut and prayer, and learning more about our Jewish tradition.
As a Jewish community, those little candles remind us of how, gradually, we must never settle for as is; instead, we must constantly rethink how to be more inclusive, more inspiring, more righteous in what we offer. As bleak as this time of year or this time in world history may look, Hanukah pushes us towards our obligation to embrace hope, especially in times like these.
Each day of Hanukah, we clear out yesterday’s candles and begin anew.
Even if we were not able to be our brightest selves yesterday, we have a new chance to pursue greater holiness today. While we may not be perfect in our attempts at sacred living, in Beit Hillel’s world, complacency is not an option.
This Hanukah, may we embrace the challenge to improve our Jewish practice and our righteousness each and every day. Through this, we can elevate our sanctity.
May we look to the light for the strength to know that increasing hope, and even increasing effort towards the good, are ideas that our Jewish people have held for thousands of years.