Today’s synonym for light is (last, but absolutely not least) inspiration / spirituality.
There was a machloket (a disagreement) between the houses of Hillel and Shammai as to what order the candles on the Chanukiah should be lit on Chanukah. The house of Shammai stated that the holiday should begin with all eight candles lit, decreasing by one candle each night until there was one flame on the last night of the holiday. This was because, according to Shammai, one begins with the “days remaining;” – the “maximum potential” of the commandment. Or, another interpretation is that it represented the waning power of the Greeks over the Jewish people.
The house of Hillel argued that we should light the candles the opposite way, beginning with one flame and working our way up to eight (nine if you count the shamash). Hillel believed that you begin with the “realized potential” of the mitzvah. As the Maccabees purified the Temple during those eight days, the presence of G-d in the Holy Temple increased. Or, you can also see it as representing the Maccabees. What began as a small band of rebels grew to a large group. As we well know, Hillel won the argument, and as a result, the days of Chanukah grow increasingly warm and beautiful with each passing night.
The eighth night of Chanukah often strikes me as a particularly lovely, inspiring, and spiritual time. On the first night of Chanukah, the two lonely candles were barely able to pierce the darkness of the room in which they burned. But on the eighth night, the room dances in the reflections of the flames. As the warmth and light has grown, so too can our spiritual connection as we move past the holiday into the cold, but steadily lightening days of winter.
May you share your winter in the warming presence of loved ones and friends and may your secular new year be a sweet one.