Rabbi Ari Lucas Congregation Agudath Israel Caldwell, NJ Parashat Miketz/Hanukkah
Every morning as we’re trying to get our kids off for school, there’s a frenzied scene unfolding right in the doorway of our home. It will probably be familiar to many of you. In a rush, we run through the daily checklist. Is your bag packed? Do you have your homework? Lunch boxes? Kippah? Jacket? Don’t forget your library books and your drum for band practice!
This unfolds in the presence of two Jewish symbols right near our front door: the mezuzah on the doorpost and the hanukkiyot which sit on a table nearby.
For the week of Hanukkah, the mezuzah and the hanukkiyah are meant to surround you as you pass through the threshold of your home. According to the halakhah (Jewish law), we’re supposed to place מזוזה מימין ונר חנוכה משמאל - the mezuzah on the right hand side (when entering the house), while the Hanukkah light is on the left. (Shulhan Arukh OH 671:7) In more moderate climates (you can see this in Israel to this day), people light their hanukkiyot outside their homes by the gate of their house - often in a glass box to protect from the wind. In New Jersey, the weather won’t tolerate that, so we light our candles indoors and place them by a window so that they can be seen from the outside. But originally, the intention was for us to be surrounded by these two mitzvot - mezuzah and menorah as we enter and exit our homes during the week of Hanukkah.
In a recent article, Rabbi Benjamin Blech, argues that these two symbols - the mezuzah and the hanukiyah serve important complementary functions. The mezuzah is a protective amulet. It marks the inside of the home as Jewish space. Passing through the doorway, we seek protection from the troubles of the outside world. The mezuzah marks our homes as a joyful Jewish sanctuary.
The hanukkiyah, on the other hand, is a beacon to let the light of our homes illuminate the outside world. In contrast to the Shabbat candles, the light of the hanukkiyah is not for our use, but rather to be shared with others as a reminder of the miracles for which we are grateful. If the mezuzah is a way to mark the inside of one’s home as Jewish space, then the hanukkiyah is meant to remind us to stand for Jewish values outside of our homes. To paraphrase the Sh’ma, we’re meant to be guided by Judaism whether at home or while walking on our way.
In these times of great challenges, the mezuzah and the hanukkiyah serve as partners inspiring us to bring our fullest Jewish selves to our home and out in the world. The doorway is a threshold space. In the same way that our daily checklist by the front door gets us ready for school, the mezuzah and the hanukiyah are meant to prepare us spiritually for our transitions in and out of our homes.
Next time you’re rushing to get out of the house, take a moment to consider the mezuzah and the hanukkiyah and think about how you might bring your fullest Jewish self to your home and the world.