Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."
Once the Jewish sages decided to establish Hanukkah as a holiday for the ages, there was a dispute about how exactly the ritual of lighting the Hanukkah menorah should go. Just to recap, we are celebrating the fact that when the Jewish people recaptured the Temple from the Greeks some 2,000 years ago. The Jewish fighters could only find one small jar of pure olive oil in order to light the Temple menorah, the lampstand. Miraculously, that oil, which should have lasted only one day and night, lasted for eight days and nights. Today, we recall the miracle by lighting our menorahs for eight nights.
This is where the sages had a dispute. One sage, Hillel, determined that on every night, another candle should be added and lit. Thus, the first night would only have one candle, and by the eighth night, there would be eight candles burning. Another sage, Shammai, recommended the opposite. He believed that on the first night, we should light all eight candles, and deduct one candle each night until we are left with only one candle on the eighth night.
This dispute was about much more than eight candles and the order in which they would be lit. Underlying each argument was a belief system and a suggestion for perfecting God's world.
According to Shammai, the sagewho advocated deducting a candle each night, the way to make the world a better place is to destroy evil. According to Shammai, the fire of the candles was a symbol of destruction. Shammai believed that we need to burn away the evil in the world. At first, we need a lot of fire. But as we eradicate more evil, less fire is needed until no fire is needed at all.
Hillel, on the other hand, felt that the way to fight darkness is by adding more light. Hillel believed that the complete destruction of evil was an unrealistic and costly venture. Instead, he advocated that we add more goodness and more godliness to the world until evil has no place in it. This is why we light one candle on the first night — we add a little light. We add more and more light until on the eighth night, the whole room shines.
Ultimately, we follow Hillel's opinion. We light our candles by adding another candle each night. However, we need to follow Hillel's advice all year long as well. As God commanded, we need to be light and add light to the world. We do this as we extend warmth and compassion to others; as we shine with kindness and love. In this way, our light will banish all the darkness and create a much better world.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which now raises more than $140 million per year, mostly from Christians, to assist Israel and the Jewish people. Since its founding, The Fellowship has raised more than $1.4 billion for this work. The organization has offices in Jerusalem, Chicago, Toronto and Seoul.