At the time of year when the days are short and light is scarce, Hanukkah invites each of us to make our own light. We are not instructed to do this in one gigantic central menorah, but rather we are commanded ner ish u-beito — a candle for each household.
Following this teaching, Jewish tradition dictates that there is to be one menorah lit in each home. Our texts go further to teach that the mehadrin — the ones who go above and beyond to perform the mitzvah in the most splendid way — don’t just have one person in each household light the candles, but rather each person in each household kindles their own flames.
In times of darkness it is important to rely not only on one centralized source to light the way. When all the light is concentrated in one spot, that place will be exceedingly bright while all that surrounds it will be in darkness. Should something arise from within or without that threatens the ability of that light to shine, there is the possibility that all will be left without illumination of any kind.
On Hanukkah, it is our great duty and joy to each kindle our own lights. Ner ish u-beito is both a democratization and an activation of the light-giving capacity within each of us. Rather than one menorah burning brightly, we are instead instructed to create countless tiny lights sparkling everywhere — in every home, in every city, across the world.
Hanukkah teaches that, especially in seasons of darkness, each and every one of us has the power to brighten our little corner of the world. The light that each of us is uniquely capable of kindling makes a difference and it is the combined light of our individual flames that illumines the darkness for all.
Hanukkah is a time for each of us to connect to the light within and, one candle at a time, to bring that light out into the world. It is an opportunity for us to support others in kindling their unique flame and for learning to appreciate the ways different lights glow. And it is a time for noticing what is possible when millions of little sparks are all lit up at once across the world.
Rabbi Adina Allen is co-founder and creative director of the Jewish Studio Project, a Bay Area start-up that utilizes the creative arts as a tool for self-discovery, social change and inspiring a Judaism that is vibrant, connective and hopeful.