Placing a menorah in the window is a mitzvah that helps share the great miracle of Hanukkah.
By Rabbi Leiby Burnham
The sages teach us a primary function of lighting the menorah is pirsumei nissa, publicizing the great miracle that God performed on our behalf when the Temple Menorah lamps lasted eight days in the time of the Maccabees.
Therefore, we light the menorah in a window, a place that is highly visible to the outside world, a feature not found in any other mitzvah. We should try to light it when it starts to get dark outside and people are heading home.
Based on the desire to publicize the miracle, the ideal place for a menorah would be right outside our front door. In Israel, most people light their menorahs in that spot. In the diaspora, where the Jews have historically been the victims of oppression, we’ve been forced to move the lighting indoors.
The sages teach us that a person should place the menorah on the left side of the door. Because the mezuzah is on the right, the householder will be surrounded by mitzvot when entering his home.
Is there any significance to which mitzvot are on what side when one walks in or out of his home?Interestingly, the mezuzah and the menorah represent two opposing ideas. The mezuzah is representative of compromise. Rashi says we should place it vertically, and Rabeinu Tam says we should place it horizontally. In practice, we place it diagonally in a compromise between the two.
The menorah represents steadfast and unwavering commitment to Jewish values. It commemorates a miracle that occurred to a small group of people that refused to be washed over in the tide of assimilation. This group merited seeing the last open miracle that the Jewish people witnessed.
Let’s get back to the placement of these objects in our doorway. As we walk into our homes, the mezuzah is on our right, the dominant side, reminding us that when a Jew comes into his home, he must be prepared to make compromises in order to uphold the shalom bayit, the peace of the home.
However, as one walks out of his house, the menorah is on the dominant right side to signify to us 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 allow our morals to become a bit more relaxed around the office, nor can we go hang out with friends in a manner that contrasts to the sanctity of our Jewish home.
We need to take every aspect of the moral fiber of the Jewish home and bring it with us into the world outside, without a smidgen of adjustment or modification. This is the message of the placement of the menorah and the mezuzah; together they make a portal of perfection.
Rabbi Leiby Burnham is director of outreach for the Weiss Family Partners in Torah at Yeshiva Beth Yehudah.