For the week ending 5 December 2015 / 23 Kislev 5776

Chanukah - Lighting Left

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Chava

Dear Rabbi,

It seems to me that the right side is usually given precedence in performing mitzvot. Why is the Chanukah menorah lit on the left side of the doorway?

Dear Chava,

Many people nowadays light inside the house either on a table or in the window. But it is correct that according to the original halacha, and as still practiced by many today, the ideal location to light the Chanukah menorah is on the left side of the main, outer doorway into the house.

One reason that’s given in the sources is in order that a person will be encompassed by mitzvot — by the mezuzah, whose place is fixed on the right, and the menorah, which is therefore placed on the left. In this way, a person’s goings out and comings in are illuminated by the spiritual and physical light of the mezuzah and the menorah.

In addition, the verse states, “There is length of days in its right hand; in its left there are wealth and honor.” “Length of days” refers to the World-to-Come, which was given to Israel. “Wealth and honor” belonged to Yavan (ancient Greece), the descendent of Yefet. But when the Greeks tuned to evil, Israel merited their portion as well. Hence we have the mezuzah, which mentions length of days, on the right; and we light the menorah to symbolize our victory over Greece on the left, expressing our hope to receive their wealth and honor for the purpose of serving G-d.

Another idea is that since the doorway serves for entry as well as departure, while the menorah is on the left of the doorway going in, it illuminates the right side going out. That is to say, this lamp sheds light upon us even when we are “outside”, in exile among the nations of the world. And even now, while the Temple is not built, the light of the Chanukah menorah illuminates our path in exile.

In a similar light, the original altar was consecrated on the 25th of Kislev, the same day on which Chanukah was later instituted. The mitzvah of making a sanctuary for G-d in which He may dwell in our midst is thereby timeless, and every Jew is obliged to yearn daily for the rebuilding of the Temple. One way we do this is by lighting the Chanukah menorah in memory of the miracle that occurred during that rededication of the Temple. And we place it facing outward on the right — like a person on vigil waiting at the door in anticipation of a long-expected wayfarer’s return.

May we merit the arrival of Mashiach and the restoration of the Final Temple speedily in our days, Amen!

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