The Hidden Light
What is so special about the mitzvah of Chanuka lights?
This is the question that arises when we read the words of Rambam (Laws of Chanuka 4:12):
"The mitzvah of Chanuka is a very beloved mitzvah."
This extraordinary title for a mitzvah, one not assigned to any other mitzvah, calls for an examination of the special nature of this command.
The answer lies in the mystical concept of Ohr Haganuz:
When G-d created the world and said, "Let there be light", the illumination that resulted was not what we see today. This was a light, say our Sages, which enabled one "to see from one end of the world to another."
What happened to this light is explained in the gemara (Mesechta Chagigah 12b) quoted by Rashi in Parshat Bereishet (1:4):
"G-d saw that the wicked were unworthy of enjoying it and therefore set it aside for the use of the righteous in the World to Come."
Where did the Creator store this Ohr Haganuz hidden light in the meantime?
Our sacred commentaries have suggested that the Ohr Haganuz was stored in the words of the Torah. When one learns Torah he gains some of that world-spanning perspective provided by this magical light.
There is also a tradition that the Ohr Haganuz was stored in the lights kindled by Jews on Chanuka. The 36 lights of the eight days of Chanuka correspond to the 36 hours of the primeval light before it was set aside.
This explains the custom of spending some time looking at the Chanuka lights so as to gain a tiny glimpse of the hidden light which they reflect.
What can we hope to gain from such a virtual reconnection to a light which enabled one to see from one end of the world to another?
Chanuka brings together thousands of miles of the universe and thousands of years of history. It celebrates the end of the Hellenist exile, the third of the four exiles our people have experienced at the hands of four different superpowers. Exile, and the suffering that goes with it, can challenge one's faith. But when one looks at those Chanuka lights, and sings the "Maoz Tzur" song about miraculous survival in all of those exiles, he sees the world – time and place – from one end to another and gains an understanding of the Divine design for the destiny of His beloved people.
May we merit to see the hidden light within the lights of Chanuka and enjoy a glimpse of the World to Come.