Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights? A Hanukkah (Not Pesach) Reflection
The second night of Hanukkah is very special as a few key elements of the Mitzvah of lighting the Hanukkah candles are realized on the second night.
Technically speaking, one can fulfill the Mitzvah of Hanukkah candles by lighting one candle each night. Adding a candle each night is the fulfillment of what the Talmud calls “Mihadrin Min HaMihadrin (the most meticulous way to perform a Mitzvah). Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in a discourse delivered in 1981, notes the special nature of this practice. “ Although the mitzvah of Chanukah lights on the first night was performed to perfection (by kindling one light), on the second night we add an extra light to perform the mitzvah in the best way possible.” It is only on the second night that we can serve God in the most exalted and proper way.
Rabbi David Hartman notes a related element.
“Although there may have been sufficient oil in the cruses of oil which had been ritually defiled, Jews insisted on using only pure oil, even though the quantity found appeared to be insufficient. The willingness to rely on one small but pure cruse of oil symbolized the reluctance to compromise their standards of excellence and moral ideals.
While we may normally think that religious piety is a source of disunity among Jews, according to the Rema lighting with this high level of religious obligation is a unifier as lighting this way has become the “simple unquestioned custom” for all Jews.
As you light the candles on the second night, think about how what you are doing connects you to Jews all around the world who are fulfilling this Mitzvah just as you are! Is it comforting or inspirational in a way to feel so connected?
Entering into the world of extra piety by lighting two candles on the second night offers us the opportunity to approach the world of high level religious observance. Perhaps this is an invitation to engage all areas of our religious life - indeed, all areas of life - in the best way possible - Mihadrin Min HaMihadrin.
Yet, there is an unexpected element here as well. The Talmud states that the reason we start with one candle and add one each night instead of starting with eight and lighting one less each night is Ma’alin Bakodesh V’Ein Moridin - the principle that we must increase in sanctity.
Again, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson notes that: “The Chanukah lights teach us that one must always increase in his observance of Torah and mitzvos. This is demonstrated by the Chanukah lights of the second night.”
I find it very meaningful and surprising that the level of Mihadrin Min HaMihadrin is reached by simply adding one candle each night. It seems that the slightest addition is rendered an increase in sanctity and piety.
For me, this symbolizes that even the smallest religious act can have profound significance. Maybe a grand sacrifice is not the only way to express our high level devotion to God. Each of us is different, and we will each draw closer to God in accordance with our uniqueness.
Staying within the world of Chabad, Rabbi Shnuer Zalman of Liadi once taught: “A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness”.
While applicable in so many areas of life, on Hanukkah, specifically the second night of , this reminds me that even a small step in God’s direction, in the direction of a child or a parent, a step towards an estranged loved one or into our community can be momentous and significant.