Tonight is Night Four of Chanukah: one whole side of the menorah will be lit, and then other half left in darkness.
Two great teachers had an argument about lighting the menorah. Shammai argued that we should light all the candles on the first night, and then decrease by one candle each night. Hillel disagreed, saying that we should begin with just one candle. The academy voted, and Hillel’s view prevailed. Later his students taught that we light that way because in matters of sanctity, we always increase.
Tonight we will be at the middle point, where light is balanced with the dark. We have seen the lights increase for the past four nights, but there are still as many empty sockets on the lamp as there are candles burning. Chanukah takes its time! We are not allowed to rush it, to light more candles than the day provides.
We are accustomed to speed; Chanukah calls us to slow down. We light the candles, and we may not perform work by their light. So life stops for a little while, and we pay attention to one another, or we play. For eight nights, we have to stop and enjoy ourselves: poor things! We have to stop working!
In the age of smartphones, this is no small thing. Perhaps the best gift of Chanukah is the habit it offers us: for a little while, every night, we pause– to play.