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The Procedure for Lighting the Hanukah Candles

When discussing the laws of the Hanukah candles, we must address three issues: 1) the proper time for the lighting; 2) the proper place where the candles should be lit; 3) the procedure for the lighting.

The preferred time for lighting the Hanukah candles is fifteen minutes after sundown. This time of year, sunset occurs at approximately 4:30pm, and so one should preferably light the Hanukah candles at 4:45pm. If one is able to come home from work to light at this time, he should do so. If not, then the candles may be lit later. It must be emphasized, however, than on Sunday, for example, when most people do not have to work, the candles should be lit at the ideal time even if on weekdays this is not possible. A person should not assume that since on workdays he lights at 8pm he can or should light at that time on Sunday, as well. According to some Poskim, lighting later than the preferred time is allowed only on the level of "Bedi’abad" ("after the fact"), and therefore every reasonable effort must be made to light at that time. Even if one cannot light at that time on weekdays, he should certainly do so on Sunday.

Ideally, the candles should be lit outside by the doorway to one’s home, on the side opposite the Mezuzah. The practice to light indoors was begun because it became dangerous to light outside, where the candles would be seen by hostile gentiles. Nowadays, thank God, this danger no longer exists in most areas, and therefore it is preferable, if one can, to light outside the front door, using a special glass box to protect the candles from the wind. The Mezuzah is situated on the right side of the doorway (when one enters the house), and the Menorah should thus be placed on the left side. When one stands in the middle wearing Sisit, he is surrounded by Misvot, which has a very significant spiritual effect.

The more conventional practice, however, is to light indoors, and this is the practice of even many great Torah leaders, and there is certainly a legitimate Halachic basis for this custom of lighting indoors by a window that faces the public domain.

On the first night of Hanukah, one lights the rightmost candle on the Menorah, and then on each subsequent night one adds a candle to the left. The lighting is done from the leftmost candle rightward (the direction of writing English).

Before lighting the Hanukah candles, one recites two Berachot: "Le’hadlik Ner Hanukah," and "She’asa Nissim La’abotenu Bayamim Ha’hem Ba’zman Ha’zeh." On the first night, we add a third Beracha – "Shehehiyanu." It should be emphasized that the custom of the Sepharadim is to recite for the first Beracha the text of "Le’hadlik Ner Hanukah," and not "Le’hadlik Ner Shel Hanukah." This Beracha differs from the Beracha recited over the Shabbat candles, when we indeed include the word "Shel" ("Le’hadlik Ner Shel Shabbat"). Sepharadim should thus recite "Le’hadlik Ner Hanukah," and not "Le’hadlik Ner Shel Hanukah."

This first Beracha contains thirteen words, which correspond to God’s thirteen attributes of mercy. When reciting this Beracha, one should try to have in mind that each word represents the corresponding attribute. "Baruch" corresponds to "Kel"; "Ata" corresponds to "Rahum"; "Hashem" to "Hanun"; "Elokenu" to "Erech"; "Melech" to "Apayim"; "Ha’olam" to "Rab Hesed"; "Asher" to "Ve’emet"; "Kideshanu" to "Noser Hesed"; "Be’misvotav" to "La’alafim"; "Ve’sivanu" to "Noseh Avon"; and the three words of "Le’hadlik Ner Hanukah" correspond to the attributes "Va’fesha," "Ve’hata’a" and "Ve’nakeh." More importantly, even if one cannot have these detailed intentions, he should certainly recite the Berachot slowly and concentrate on the plain meaning of the words.

One should not begin lighting the candles until after he has completed reciting all the Berachot. As soon as one lights the first candle, he should recite "Ha’nerot Halalu." One should not begin reciting "Ha’nerot Halalu" before the first candle is lit, but he does not have to wait until the other candles are lit. After "Ha’nerot Halalu," it is customary to recite the Psalms of "La’menase’ah Bi’nginot Mizmor Shir" and "Mizmor Shir Hanukat Ha’bayit Le’David," followed by the song of "Maoz Sur." Thereafter, it is customary to recite seven times the chapter of "Vi’hi Noam…Yoseb Be’seter"; the Hid"a (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806) writes that this recitation is a powerful Segula ("charm") for protection.

It is proper after lighting the Hanukah candles to pray for one’s and one’s children’s success in Torah learning and religious observance. We light a total of 36 candles over the course of Hanukah, which correspond to the 36 tractates of the Talmud. When we light each candle, we should pray for success in our efforts to master the corresponding Masechet. Furthermore, it is proper to spend some moments gazing at the Hanukah candles after the lighting; one should not simply light and then walk away. Although it is forbidden to make personal use of the light of the Hanukah candles, one should spend a few moments looking at the light, as it is invested with special spiritual power that is capable of elevating the soul.

Finally, we must emphasize the unique importance of this Misva of Hanukah candle lighting. The Jewish people were given a total of 620 Misvot – 613 that are in the Torah, and seven which were enacted by our Sages. Hanukah candles is the final of the seven Misvot established by Hazal, and it is therefore represented by the word "Keter" ("crown"), which has the numerical value of 620. The Misva of the Hanukah lights is the "crown" of all the Misvot, which yields profound effects both in this world and in the upper worlds. In fact, there are some Sadikim who immerse in the Mikveh before lighting the Hanukah candles. We must therefore prepare for this Misva accordingly, with the proper vigor and enthusiasm, and ensure to perform the Misva in strict accordance with all the relevant Halachot and customs.