by Rabbi Zolly Claman
(Edmonton) – It has now been almost three years since my lungs have taken in a breath of Israeli air. I may have been born in Ottawa and live in Edmonton, but my home is Israel.
Why all the nostalgia? It is always during Chanukah that I am reminded of how much I miss it; The sufganiyot filled bakeries, the crisp fall air and yes – the lack of the white-bearded man dressed in red that seems to inundate us on this side of the pond.
But really what I miss the most are the menorahs that are lit outside every home. There is nothing more beautiful than taking a walk on Jerusalem cobblestone, surrounded by the flickering light of little menorahs at each entryway. Here in the diaspora, where Jews have historically been victims of oppression, the custom has developed to move the candle lighting indoors – but that was not the original design. To this day, in Israel, the original ideal is still practiced, and most people light their menorahs outside, adjacent to their front door.
Next time you are in Israel, take a close look at the precise placement of the menorahs. They are placed on the left side of the door. This follows the Talmudic edict to be “surrounded by Mitzvot” – the mezuza on the right and the menorah on the left.
Is there any significance to which side either of these mitzvot are on when one enters or exit the home? These two mitzvot represent two opposing ideas. The mezuzah is representative of compromise and the menorah represents steadfast and unwavering commitment to Jewish values.
Ever wonder why the mezuzah is placed on a slant? During the Middle Ages, there emerged an uncertainty as to whether or not the mezuzah should be placed vertically or horizontally – and as a compromise, the tradition is to have it slanted. The menorah commemorates a miracle that occurred to a small group of Jews who refused to be washed over in the tide of acculturation and assimilation. It was this group that merited to see the very last open miracle that the Jewish people witnessed.
Getting back to the main topic at hand, with an estimated 90% of the world’s population being right-handed, the right side is considered the dominant side. When a Jew walks into his or her home, the mezuzah is on the dominant right as a subtle reminder to be prepared to compromise and uphold domestic harmony that Judaism holds so precious.
However, as one walks out of the home, the menorah is on the dominant right side to signify that we cannot compromise our Jewish values at all when we are out in the big world. We cannot allow ourselves to make ethical lapses that we normally wouldn’t do at home, just to help business go more smoothly. We cannot relax our morals to gain friends or popularity. Every aspect of the moral fibre that is found within the Jewish home must be held high in our societal lives – as a light upon the nations, without even a slight modification or adjustment.
So as a Jew are we meant to be flexible or stubborn? I guess the answer is “yes” – we have to be both. The art of being a Jew is knowing how to embrace both of those qualities.
Chanukah is set at the time of year when the night finally starts getting shorter and the days longer. The darkness dissipates and makes room for the light. In the merit of our being able to walk the fine line between flexibility and stubbornness, may pain and suffering dissipate and make room for joy and happiness.
Rabbi Zolly Claman serves as Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Edmonton Alberta.