What’s the connection between lighting candles and having learned children?
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
Happy Chanukah folks! In order to properly appreciate this teaching, keep note of the Hebrew words that you see in the course of this article.
The Talmud tells us that “one who is careful [“haragil”] with lighting candles will merit to have sons who are learned in Torah.” This refers to the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat and Chanukah candles. As such, one who is careful with these two mitzvot will merit to have children who are learned in Torah.
The obvious question is: what’s the connection between lighting candles and having learned children?
The sages teach us that the “spiritual reason” that the evil Greek king Antiochus was able to come to power and persecute the Jews was because the Jews were not fulfilling the mitzvot properly.
The prophet Isaiah [29:13] worded it beautifully, “For the nation has approached me with their lips and mouths, but their hearts are far from me, their worship of me is out of routine and habit”.
In other words, the Jews were performing mitzvot as if it were a chore. A routine, a habit [“hergel” in Hebrew]. It was not a sincere and loving performance of mitzvot. As a result, the Jews were visited with some tough times during the Second Temple era.
We know that the Maccabees, with their devotion to God, to Torah, and to the nation, were miraculously successful and overcame the Greeks, thereby restoring Judaism to the Jewish people and rededicating the Holy Temple.
As we know, the Maccabees only found enough oil to last for one day. A miracle occurred – and the oil lasted for eight days. To commemorate this event, we light candles on each night of Chanukah.
What is the deadline for lighting the candles each night? One may only light the menorah as long as there are passersby outside to see one’s menorah [“regel”]. Once it has become too late and there are no passersby who would see one’s menorah lit, one is no longer permitted to light the menorah that night.
Back to our original question: So why it is that one who is careful to light the Shabbat and Chanukah candles will merit children who are learned?
The flame on a candle does not remain stationary; it constantly flickers to and fro. When we gaze at the Chanukah candles, we are reminded of how the Maccabees led a group of faithful Jews to revolt against an army much mightier than themselves, and succeeded against all odds with the help of God. The flames of the Shabbat candles should remind us the we are fortunate to have a day of rest which is spent indulging in good food and family.
Doing mitzvot in a routine perfunctory manner [“hergel”], is a constant threat to the active and determined way in which we should always strive to serve God. The inspiration we gain from the Chanukah candles should remind us that we need to properly focus our mind and intentions whenever we perform mitzvot all year long.
Not only do we need to do this for ourselves, but we need to be an example to others, i.e. the “passersby” [“regel”]. When children see that their parents are dedicated to the mitzvot it will no doubt rub off on them — and THAT will lead them to becomie Torah scholars because they will be excited to learn more and more about what it means to be Jewish.