29 Kislev 5781
December 15, 2020
Last night I lit an yahrzeit (memorial) candle for my father. He passed away two years ago. Today is his yahrzeit – 29 Kislev. Today is also the fifth day of Chanukah. Last night, after lighting a yahrzeit candle, I lit the menorah with my mother via Zoom. We each lit our own menorah. Afterwards, we sang Maoz Tzur – Rock of Ages. Traditionally, after a menorah is lit, the candles are watched in silence as the flames burn on the wick. A basic box of Chanukah candles will burn for about half an hour. Handmade candles will last for about forty-five minutes. We each watched in silence as the candles remained lit until they extinguished themselves.
The fifth night of Chanukah is also very significant for me, not only because my father passed away on the fifth day of Chanukah; additionally, because of the symbolism that is connected with the lighting of the menorah on that particular night. A traditional menorah, actually referred to as a chanukiah, will be in the shape of a candelabra. There are nine candle holders, with the center one raised above the others. So, there are four to the right, and for to the left of the center candle holder. The candle placed in the central position is referred to as the shamash (servant) candle. This is the candle that is used to light all of the other candles.
On the fifth night of Chanukah, five candles are lit, in addition to the shamash candle. So, there would be four to the right of the shamash, and one to the left on a traditional candelabra style chanukiah. Therefore, this type of chanukiah clearly depicts when the candles are lit for the fifth day, that there is more light than darkness. I.e., there are more candles lit than not lit. So, my father’s transition into the next world is denoted symbolically as a transition from darkness into light. Thus, I feel even more reassured about his safe passage to Shomayim (Heaven).
Traditionally, Judaism teaches that the souls of the righteous ascend to Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). A more common term for this place in Shomayim is Paradise. Here the righteous bask in the radiance of G-d’s light, according to the Talmud. According to kitvei kodesh (holy scripture), at the time of the resurrection, the soul is restored to the body, whereas the resurrected self will continue to live in Olam Haba (the World to Come). The first part of Olam HaBa is the millenial Sabbath, wherein the Messiah will reign from Jerusalem for one thousand years, before the new heavens and earth bring a complete restoration for eternity. As depicted by the sages, Malchus Elokim (the Kingdom of G-d) begins with a great banquet.
“This world is like a vestibule before the world to come: prepare yourself in the vestibule, so that you may enter the banquet hall.”
– Pirkei Avos 4:21