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Overcoming Evil: The Secret of the Chanukah Lights

Published on Monday December 10th, 2018

Based on a purely technical law related to Chanukah, let's discover a way to fight the evil within us by accessing the Hasidic masters’ wisdom.

Chanukah, like any other traditional event or any other festival, is governed by halachic regulations. One of them is placing the Menorah on the left side of the door at the entrance of the house, while, as we all know, the Mezuzah is placed on the right.

This law originates from a verse (Proverbs 3; 16): "The lengthening of life is on his right. Wealth and glory are on his left".

These laws, as well as this verse from Proverbs, seem rather mysterious and unfathomable.

For the Mezuzah, the Torah tells us: "You will place the Mezuzah on your right doorpost to lengthen your days" (see the second paragraph of Shema Israel).

The letters of the word Mezuzot are the same as zaz mavet: remove death (מזוזות  זז מות). We, therefore, understand why King Solomon, author of the book of Proverbs, associates the idea of lengthening man's days, with the right direction, where the mezuzah is placed, which is meant to lengthen life.

But what are the relationship between the left side, where the Chanukah menorah is placed and wealth and glory?

Spiritual Vitality

The Sfat Emet, in the name of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, a Chasidic giant, says that the lights of Chanukah project such wealth and glory that they will eventually outmatch the left attribute.

To fully understand the thought of this Chasidic Master, one must first understand what the right and the left attributes mean, and the notions they stand for.

The world here below is called "the left" by our sages and the future world is known as "the right". While the left is of secondary importance, the right is paramount. In the same way that we tackle what's secondary after what is essential, we must prioritize spiritual imperatives above material contingencies. The physical world must be subjected to spiritual vitality (kedusha), which is the engine that animates it and gives it life.

A Different Dimension

Shabbat best illustrates this phenomenon. While life takes its course and we continue to exist in our physical and palpable world, we do not operate changes in the material world on Shabbat. On Shabbat we are projected into another dimension, outside –some say above, time. We may get a taste of the future world (Mein Olam Haba); a perception that is inaccessible during the week.

Man must comply with Hashem's will that he subordinates the material and physical aspects of his life to the spiritual world and make the spiritual prevail above other aspects of life. This is perhaps too abstract to be fully understood. But this concept exists and calls a man to reveal and discover it. Accessing this dimension is the recipe for true happiness.

Thanks to the Sfat Emet's explanation, it is easy to understand why the Mezuzah must be placed on the right-hand side of the entrance door. Every mitzvah occupies a place on the right side to stress its spiritual predominance. By deduction, one might infer that the candles of Chanukah ought to be placed on the right-hand side of the entrance of the house too.

However, our Sages established they should be placed on the left, and the halacha points in this direction too.

What prompted our Sages to decide so? At first sight, it seems counterproductive to turn left, knowing that landmarks in space have spiritual value.

The answer to this question will allow us to acquire a deeper understanding of the lights of Hanukkah, and moreover, to fine-tune our attitude towards evil in the world and in ourselves.

Attacking Evil Frontally

The specificity of the Chanukah lights is to illuminate the darkness and eradicate evil by projecting a potent light upon it, thus wiping out the darkness of our evil inclination (Yetzer hara).

The Chanukah lights provide an avenue to overcome evil: attacking it on its own front, just like the Hasmoneans, the Sages, the tzaddikim and the valiant elders did before us. They did not hesitate to fight the relentless and threatening potent Greek army, whose motto aggressively opposed spirituality.

They decided to attack evil frontally, protected by divine assistance in their one-track-minded quest to make Hashem reign in the world. And when, at the bottom of the prosaic and material world, on the left-hand side of the world, man can outdraw darkness by shedding light upon it, Divine glory is revealed in added luminescence. When we fight for the prevalence of good over evil, we may expect to merit a place on the right-hand side of Hashem.

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