Chanukah lights are traditionally positioned in a window, to illuminate the darkness outside. This mitzvah speaks of our obligation to brighten the lives of those beyond the nucleus of our family and community.
The Talmud explains the mitzvah of Chanukah can be fulfilled by one person lighting a candle on behalf of their household, but suggests the optimal fulfilment is for each individual to kindle their own light.
This suggests that each individual, man or woman, is nonetheless encouraged to set aside some oil – a metaphor for the energy and passion that fuels our activity – required to kindle their personal Chanukah light and illuminate the outside world.
This a lofty ideal, but in practice most of us, in particular women, experience an ongoing tension in trying to balance the energy we devote to personal versus public spheres.
The Talmudic sage Rava addresses this tension, saying: ‘’If one must choose between a house-light (for Shabbat) or a Chanukah light, the house-light takes priority’.
While Rava speaks of a case where one’s monetary budget doesn’t stretch to buying oil for both Shabbat and Chanukah lights, we can apply his principle to situations where our time, energy and emotional resources are limited. In such cases our priority should be on the inner circle of our family.
But having clear priorities to our family may not be enough.
While work is permitted on Chanukah, women have the custom to abstain from domestic chores while the lights burn.
According to the mystics, abstaining from work enables us to absorb the holiness of the moment.
This custom speaks of the importance of investing in spiritual self-care.
Taking time to internalise the holiness of the Chanukah lights is crucial if we are to illuminate external darkness.
Dina Brawer is founder of Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance UK