Mezuzah Maven

For the week ending 8 December 2018 / 30 Kislev 5779

Mezuzah on the Right, Chanukah Candle on the Left

by Rabbi Ze'ev Kraines
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One of my most inspirational memories of Chanukah in Jerusalem is witnessing the golden glow of candle light pouring onto the street, emanating from the doorways of apartment blocks in every neighborhood. My heart would overflow with childhood memories of the pride and wonder I felt as my parents steadied my hand while I lit the multi-colored candles of my very own menorah.

Jerusalem is fairly unique in preserving the original Talmudic custom of lighting at the doorway or gateway leading to the street. As Rambam records:

Accordingly, the Sages of that generation (i.e. the Chanukah miracle) ordained that these eight days…. be days of happiness and praise (of G-d). Candles should be lit in the evening at the entrance to the houses on each and every one of these eight nights to publicize and reveal the miracle.

For centuries, wary of anti-Semitic incidents, Diaspora Jewry has kindled their candles indoors — some at their inner doorways, some at their windows and some on a table. As the Talmud states, at a time of danger it is acceptable to light on one’s table.

What does this have to do with mezuzah? The Talmud states that one should place the mezuzah on the right of the doorway and the menorah on the left. This is a practical instruction but also highly symbolic. Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (1847-1905), in his classic work Sefas Emes, explains that the mezuzah trumpets G-d’s open miracles that we experienced at the Exodus from Egypt, which came from His “right hand”. As the verse states in the Song of the Sea, “Your right hand, G-d, is mighty in strength.”

In contrast, the miracles of Chanukah were “hidden” miracles: the victory of the Maccabees against an overwhelmingly mighty enemy, though surely miraculous, could be explained away by the skeptic as the Greek Empire’s own “Vietnam” lesson, that it is difficult to quell an indigenous uprising. And the miracle of the Temple menorah burning for eight days from a single flask of oil took place in the hidden inner sanctuary of the Beit Hamikdash. Thus, he explains, Chanukah’s hidden miracles can be described as coming from the Divine “left” hand. (To be politically correct towards my “lefty” brethren, the “left” hand refers to the weaker hand in Midrashic concept.)

Indeed, the miracles of Chanukah happened at a time of “hiddenness,” when Israel was under the heel of foreign powers, and we were not worthy of the open Divine intervention of G-d’s “right” hand. And yet, therein lies the comfort and encouragement of the Chanukah candles. As we watch them piercing the darkness at the left of our doorways, we must realize that behind the scenes G-d’s hidden “left” hand is orchestrating events even now, just as “in those days, at this time.”

And as we turn our heads to the mezuzah at the right of the doorway, we must “rekindle” our steadfast belief that G-d soon will be showing us open miracles from his “right” hand once again, even greater than the splitting of the sea.

· Sources: Shabbat 22a; Rambam, Hilchot Purim and Chanukah 3:3; Sefas Emes, Bereishet, Chanukah

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