Light seems to speak to us in a very deep way, particularly those gentle lights that dance atop of candles. There are few visuals that are as warming to us as the sight of a burning flame, a pure simple flame luminous and ethereal.

...lights are deemed the perfect vehicle to express joy...

To the mind, lights and festivities also seem to go together; lights are deemed the perfect vehicle to express joy, a firework display at a festive occasion is but one example, as is the lighting of candles or the hanging of colorful bulbs at a party or any other joyful event.

For example, at the moments immediately preceding the beginning of auspicious and dedicated days, such as every Shabbat, holiday or other special occasions, the tradition is to light candles. More precisely, the Shabbat candles are lit for the purpose of kavod – honor, to pay tribute to the day, and also for the purpose of oneg – pleasure, so that we eat our Shabbat meal in the pleasing glow of light, and do not stumble in the darkness. On Yom Tov we have the additional advantage of it being a day of simcha, a day of joy.

The oddity of all of this is that on Chanukah [when the lighting of candles is even more stressed and essential to the essence of the festival], the candles of Chanukah are not meant to be used for our personal pleasure whatsoever. It is quite clearly stated that one may only gaze at the lights and not use them for any other purpose. In fact, another light or candle must be lit to ensure that the room is lit even without the light of the Menorah.

The intensity of these lights is not meant to be a channel for something else, no matter how lofty that purpose may be, they are not intended as a means, but are there as an end unto themselves.

Since looking is all that can be done, many sages throughout the ages have suggested that it should be done. In addition, from the mere fact that if one does not have a Menorah to light he can nonetheless recite the blessing of She’asa Nisim – "He who has performed miracles" — just by looking at the lights of another person’s Menorah, indicates the centrality of the act of gazing at the lights of the Menorah.

There are those authorities, such as the Yesod Shoresh Avodah, who suggest that a person sit near the Menorah and sing G‑d’s praise. And there are Chasidic teachings that speak about how the power of looking at the Menorah can heal and rectify all negative sight and vision. Others learn Torah while sitting next to the Menorah. And others see the time of sitting next to the Menorah as a time to relax and become more introspective. And yet, others teach that there is no better time to think while looking at the Menorah how "There is nothing else besides G‑d."

The simplest form of this custom is that once a person lights the flames of the Chanukah menorah he should sit gently next to the lights and look, notice and listen to their story. Not use the light to see "other things," but simply to focus one’s attention to the story of the light itself.

"The soul of man is a lamp of G‑d". (Proverbs 20:27) The soul is our higher self. Our soul is the self of our potential and possibility, the part of us that stands above ego, selfishness, aggression and resentment. The soul is the background of our being, the light that masters our thoughts, emotions and actions, and essentially the whole of life. It is not something we posses, rather it is who we are, it does not belong to us, it is us.

... we have the ability to eclipse the light of our destroy and wreck havoc.

And yet, we have the ability to eclipse the light of our soul, and use its reverberating power to destroy and wreck havoc. Light can be warming and bring comfort, but it can also be the source of much destruction and devastation. We can harness our internal light to bring love and joy, but the converse is also true.

Cumulatively, to sum total of the lights we kindle throughout the days of Chanukah is thirty six, as in 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8=36.

The name of the month in which Chanukah begins, Kislev, can be divided into two: kes, ‘hidden’, and lamed-vav ‘thirty-six’. On Chanukah we reveal the Thirty-Six Hidden Lights of Creation, the light of who we really are. Chanukah begins on the twenty-fifth night of Kislev, and the twenty-fifth word in the Torah is 'ohr/light’.

The word 'Ohr' - light appears in the Torah thirty-six times. [Rokeach] This alludes to the fact that in every generation there are thirty-six hidden tzadikim, elevated souls who sustain, nurture and guard the higher lights of Creation. We are taught, “The tzadik is the foundation of the world.” [Prov. 10:25] Unassuming and virtually unknown, completely attuned to their inner light and the inner lights of creation, these thirty-six righteous people of each generation quietly support and illumine the entire universe. When we kindle the thirty-six Chanukah lights, we tap into Hidden Light of the Garden of Eden and activate the hidden point of perfect righteousness within ourselves. By arousing our inner tzadik, we support the wellbeing of the world around us.

After the incident in the Garden of Eden God asks Adam: ”ayeka ­ where are you”? (Genesis 3:9) Not merely to be polite, and show the way we should enter a conversation (ibid., Rashi) but the question is essentially, “where are you”? I.e. what have you done with your life and light? It is a question that is asked and re-asked throughout time of every one of us. The inner voice within challenging us once in a while and questioning, “Where are you”? What are your priorities? And what do you want out of life? Are you living up to your potential?
How have you cultivated revealing your inner light?
Midrashic sources write that the numeric value of the word ayeka is thirty-six. (Midrash Zuta, Lamen. 1:1) The question is then more pointedly, “where are you”? “What have you done with your light”? How have you cultivated revealing your inner light?” Is the essential question to which your life should be the response. The flames of the Menorah gently whisper to us to turn our attention inward and behold the luminous potential of our souls.

These are the lights, our lights, that gently whisper to us to turn aside, refocus, and reengage our attention from the overwhelming bombardment of the everything and take notice of what is right here, who we are, and what we can be, allowing us to glimpse inwards to a place deep within us, and rediscover that which has always been there.

Chanukah is a special time for revealing these Hidden Lights. Unlike all the Torah/Biblical-based holidays, at the end of the Rabbinic holiday of Chanukah there is no Havdalah — no ritual of separation. May we never separate ourselves from the timeless light of Chanukah, and may the higher light permeate every moment of our lives.

[Compiled from two articles in the Chanukah section of the author’s website, //; now included in his book, "Eight Lights: Meditations for Chanukah"]