The great principle “ma’alin bakodesh ve-ein moridin—in matters of holiness we ascend and do not go down,” applied by the School of Hillel to the lighting of the hanukkiyah, will reach its culmination tonight. We start with one light and ascend to eight, day after day. In our present culture that celebrates excess and grandiosity, as well as instant gratification, the instinct is to go all out from the start. The cruse of oil in the Temple in Maccabee times lasted for eight days, so why not light all eight candles on each of the eight days and enjoy the fullness of light? Why wait?
The week of Hanukkah mirrors the reality in our lives that, most often, human achievement comes slowly, bit by bit, with commitment, patience, and discipline. Reaching the moment when the full hanukkiyah is finally aglow, after seeing the light increase night after night, awakens a deep sense of fulfillment. It is a captivating and enchanting sight. I believe it touches that part of our human spirit that reaches up and aspires, that yearns to ascend—to grow, to persevere, to overcome, to complete, to triumph—and that knows it doesn’t happen all at once.
Over the past week, our lighting has been inspired by kavannot that speak of acts of kindness and love, justice and dignity, and of people that have added light to our world at a time of darkness. Let the full splendor of the hanukkiyah on the eighth night be a tribute to those who teach us how to ascend, day by day, with courage and resilience.