Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!
This week's parsha always falls out at the Chanukah season. The Talmud (Shabbat 22a) teaches that the Chanukah Menorah should ideally be lit on the left side of the doorway to one's home, resulting in the home's entrance being surrounded by objects of mitzvah: the Menorah on the left side, and the Mezuzah on the right. The Midrash adds further that a person wearing a Tallit is in the center.
On a practical level, we know that the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah involves all three of these elements. The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) introduces Chanukah with the statement "ner ish u'beito" ("a light, a person, and his home"). But what is the deeper message of this imagery? What lesson are our Sages trying to convey?
The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) teaches that the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights can be performed on three different levels: basic ("mitzvah"), extra good ("mehadrin"), and super-deluxe ("mehadrin min ha-mehadrin").
Hillel and Shammai disagree regarding the fulfillment of this last, most ideal level. Hillel claims that we should kindle one light on the first night of Chanukah and add one light on each successive night, resulting in eight lights by the end of the festival. His opinion is based on the principle that kedusha (holiness) is only increased, never decreased.
Shammai's opinion is the exact opposite. He claims that we should begin Chanukah by kindling eight lights, and then subtract them one by one as the festival progresses. Shammai compares Chanukah to Sukkot, when the number of offerings in the Holy Temple decreased over the course of the holiday.
PLACE, TIME & SELF
Shammai's connection between Chanukah and Sukkot will help us understand the symbolism of the Menorah on the left, the Mezuzah on the right, and the person wearing a Tallit in the middle.
According to the Sfat Emet, this world is composed of three dimensions to be sanctified and elevated: the dimension of PLACE, the dimension of TIME, and the dimension of SELF. All three of these elements are mentioned in the Talmud and Midrash, hinting that Chanukah affords us with the opportunity to sanctify all three dimensions at once:
The Mezuzah is affixed on the doorpost of a house, representing the sanctification of PLACE. The Menorah, which is used to count the days as Chanukah progresses, represents the sanctification of TIME. The person wearing a Tallit represents the sanctification of SELF.
Based on Shammai's approach, Chanukah can be understood as a culmination of Sukkot, since Sukkot also symbolizes the unity of the three dimensions. The Sukkah represents the dimension of Place; the seven-day duration of the holiday represents the dimension of Time; and the four species symbolize different parts of the human body, corresponding to the dimension of Self. These three dimensions are expressed on Sukkot, and they culminate on Chanukah, when the spiritual potential for unity is once again brought into physical reality.
May we all learn to carry the message of Sukkot into our daily lives and to see it manifest in Chanukah. May we succeed in elevating all three dimensions - our homes, ourselves, and every moment of our lives - and may that sanctity and unity create a strong, radiant light to shine through all generations.