A little over a hundred years ago, a Jewish philosopher-poet by the name of Yehudah Leib Gordon admonished his listeners with a phrase that became the watch-word for much of Jewish behavior in that era: Yehudi bi-vay-techa, Adam bi-tzay-techa – "Be a Jew in your house, and a regular person outside." In other words, keep your Jewishness and its practice as your own private affair, and when interacting with the rest of the world, relegate your Jewish identity to the back burner. Or hide it altogether.
Many followed Gordon's advice, and the outward signs and symbols of Judaism – Kipah (head-covering), Tzitzit (fringes on the garment), Tefillin (phylacteries), Brachot (blessings) and Kashrut (dietary laws) – to name just a few – were abandoned in public, as the Jews strove to imitate and emulate their gentile neighbors.
Eventually this public neglect of Jewish life spilled over into the private arena as well, and soon the motto was altered: "Be a Jew neither in your house nor outside".
Publicizing the Miracle
There is a custom associated with the lighting of the Menorah, called Pirsumay Nisa – "publicizing the miracle." The menorah must be kindled in a way that it can be seen outside, by the largest number of passers-by. This means at your doorstep, in your big picture window, etc.
It's not enough to illuminate one's own home with the light and warmth of Torah, but it is also necessary to illuminate the neighborhood and community at large. We want everyone to know it's Chanukah and that we're proud to be Jewish. And hopefully, all those good vibrations will rub off on others in just the right way.
How can we help others appreciate the true meaning of Chanukah?
- Give a menorah and candles to someone who wouldn't otherwise partake in the mitzvah of lighting.
- Invite some unaffiliated friends to your home for latkes, dreidel games, and a discussion of "Who were the Maccabees fighting and why?"
- Show your friends this website!
Light and Dark
Chanukah takes place in the winter, the season when the least amount of light is physically present each day. Likewise, the events of Chanukah are about Jews uniting and reconnecting to God at a time when most Jews felt lost in darkness. These heroes fought to victory and succeeded in bringing forth the spiritual Light of God into the world. The opportunity of every Chanukah is therefore an increased ability for Jews to unite and reawaken spirituality in the world at large.
Each night, as we slowly increase the number of candles kindled on the Menorah, we symbolically increase our commitment to bring spiritual light to the world. Today, with assimilation ravaging our people as perhaps never before, it is incumbent upon those who identify as Jews to raise the flag, so to speak, and let the light shine forth.
Be a Jew in your house. Be a Jew outside. Whatever you do, be a Jew.
Our ability to affect others is only as good as the commitment we've made ourselves. There is one beautiful Chanukah custom which addresses this topic directly: Ideally, the menorah should be placed outside your front door, on the left side of the door as you enter. Besides doing a splendid job of publicizing the miracle, this also has a deeper significance. Since the mezuzah is located outside your door on the right side, by adding the menorah to the left side, your home is now "surrounded by mitzvot." What greater proclamation of Jewish pride could there be!?
And while you're at it, why stop with the Menorah? What about the rest of the year? The Torah offers literally thousands of opportunities to express our Jewish identity on a regular basis. You could:
- light Shabbos candles
- say the Shema every day
- listen to Torah cassettes while commuting
- start a lunchtime study group at your office
- speak Hebrew
- play Jewish music
- pay that long-overdue visit to Israel
The options are endless. The experience is transforming. The reward is eternal.
The Power of Light
A successful businessman had three sons. He wanted to pick one to become his successor, so he devised a test.
He called the three sons together and explained: "Do you see those three barns over there? Each of you has a chance to fill one up. Whoever fills it the fullest, will take over my business."
The first son thought long and hard, and determined that newspapers were the most compact substance with the least airspace. So eagerly set out and collected tons and tons of old newspaper, carefully stacking them one on top of the other. When he was finally finished, he proudly called his father over to see.
"Not bad," said the father, "a little airspace here and there. But for the most part, that barn is full!"
The next son had an even better idea. He brought truckloads of sand and drilled a hole in the roof of the barn. He rented a conveyor belt and poured the sand into the barn. When he was finally finished, he called his father over to see.
"Excellent," said the father, "as far as I can see, the barn is nearly full!"
The third son had a different idea. He went into the barn and came out two minutes later, announcing that he was ready to show his father.
Skeptically, the father followed his son into the barn to see a small, but brightly lit candle sitting in the center of the barn. The son waved in the direction of the candle and proclaimed, “The barn is completely filled with light.”
And he was selected to take over the father's business.
The Jewish people have been entrusted with the daunting task of enlightening the world. In spite of the gloominess that sometimes seems to pervade, the Sages tell us: "A little light pushes away a lot of darkness."