A Hanukkah primer for the blessings over the candles
Hanukkah is one of the most festive Jewish holidays, filled with joyous traditions, gifts, games and delicious foods like potato latkes, donuts and chocolate coins. What’s not to like?
The Hanukkah story in a nutshell:
Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights because its central ritual is the lighting of the menorah (ceremonial candleholder) for eight consecutive nights. We commemorate Hanukkah to celebrate the inspirational story of the unlikely Maccabean victory over their Syrian-Greek oppressors who attempted to obliterate the Jewish faith and convert the Jews to Hellenism in 165 B.C.E.
The story is told of the miracle which occurred when Judah the Maccabee ordered the Temple to be cleansed and purified. There was only enough oil found in the Temple to light the ceremonial menorah for one day, yet it burned for eight days. An eight-day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.
When we gather around the menorah with friends and family to rejoice the miracle of Hanukkah, we are also celebrating the survival of the Jewish people against all odds. Although each generation interprets the victory of the Jewish spirit in light of contemporary challenges, the same three blessings over the Hanukkah candles have remained unchanged for thousands of years and are recited by Jews all over the world when lighting the menorah.
It’s as easy as one, two, three!
Decide on a prominent place for your menorah – near a window for all to see is ideal. You may be looking at your menorah and wondering why it is designed to hold nine candles when Hanukkah lasts for eight days. You will notice that one of the candleholders of your menorah will be slightly higher than the rest, or stand out in some way from the uniformity of the remaining eight candleholders. This place of honor is reserved for what is known as the shamas which is the ‘helper’ candle used to light the other eight candles.
The three blessings over the candles may be recited before or after kindling the Hanukkah lights. There is no real mystery to these blessings; they are simple yet infinitely meaningful. On the first night of the holiday all three blessings are recited, and on every subsequent night only the first two are recited. The candles are lit from right to left (as Hebrew is read), and that’s basically it as far as the prescribed service is concerned.
Here are the two blessings which we say on every night of Hanukkah. A transliteration of the Hebrew is also provided if you would like to give that a go.
1. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.
Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech ha-olam a-sher ki-de-sha-nu be-mitz-vo-tav ve-tzi-va-nu le-had-lik ner Cha-nu-kah.
2. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.
Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech Ha-olam she-a-sa ni-sim la-avo-te-nu ba-ya-mim ha-hem bi-zman ha-zeh.
Next is the blessing recited only on the first night:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech Ha-olam she-heche-ya-nu ve-ki-yi-ma-nu ve-higi-a-nu liz-man ha-zeh.
Bu the fun doesn’t stop there!
Now it’s time to indulge in the traditional dairy meal. The feasting is usually followed by the traditional ‘dreidel’ game (four-sided spinning tops) using chocolate coins as bargaining chips. (Check out some fun dreidel games for kids here.) What a delightful evening and think about it – you get to repeat this for eight days.