What is the essential mitzvah of Chanukah? The Talmud (Shabbat 22b) debates whether it’s hadlaka (lighting the lights) or hanacha (setting them in their place). Those who felt hanacha — setting up the lights which were already kindled — was the essence of the mitzvah, felt that the survival of Judaism depended upon the faithful few in whose hearts the fire of Torah burned brightly. It was, after all, only a few Maccabeans and some faithful followers who had saved the day at that first Chanukah. The Hellenizing assimilated Jews were considered lost forever.
Today too, there are Jews who believe that Jewish survival depends upon those whose hearts and souls are already aflame with God and Torah. They consider the assimilating present day “Hellenists” beyond the Pale, forever lost.
But there was another view, that the essential mitzvah is hadlaka — lighting the lights and bringing that light to the hearts of others. Every Jew, no matter how distant from Jewish life, has a pintele Yid within — a special spark that, when ignited, can blaze with the light of Torah. We must never give up on any Jew. Don’t leave this task to others. Reach out and bring others closer to the light of God with your enthusiasm, your time, talent and love. Kindle light in hearts where it has seemed to die. One candle lights another. Cold hearts can grow warm and catch fire.
The Talmud’s decision was given for all time: Hadlaka, lighting the lights is the essential mitzvah. It, therefore, is the task of every Jew to be a lamplighter bayamim haheym bazman hazeh, then, now and forever.
Mark Hillel Kunis is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Toco Hills.