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How Hanukkah Works


The Hanukiyah
Jewish boys look at the glow of the menorah as a dreidel spins on hanukkah.
Jewish boys look at the glow of the menorah as a dreidel spins on hanukkah.
iStockphoto.com/Howard Sandler

There are a variety of traditions and practices surrounding the celebration of Hanukkah.

The most important, and most recognized, Hanukkah tradition is the lighting of the candelabra, known as the Hanukiyah (or the Menorah). The Hanukiyah holds nine candles, eight representing the eight nights of the holiday plus the Shamash -- this candle is used to light the other candles. The first candle is lit on Erev Hanukkah, the night before the holiday starts.

One inserts the candles into the Hanukiyah from right to left, one candle for each day of the Hanukkah miracle (for instance, on the second day of Hanukkah, there are two regular candles and a Shamash candle in the Hanukiyah). Blessings are said while someone lights the candles from left to right. According to tradition, the left-most candle represents the most recent day of the miracle, and one lights this candle first because he is most thankful that the oil lasted yet another day. As each day passes, the Hanukiyah becomes brighter and brighter.

These are the blessings for the lighting of the Hanukiyah:

  • Blessing for the candles: Ba-ruch ata, A-do-nai E-lo-hei-nu, me-lech ha-o-lam, a-sher ki-de-sha-nu be-mits-vo tav, ve-tsi-va-nu le-had-lik neir shel Chan-nu-kah. Blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the candles of Hanukkah.
  • Blessing for Hanukkah: Ba-ruch ata, A-do-nai E-lo-hei-nu, me-lech ha-o-lam, she-a-sa ni-sim la-vo-tei-nu ba-ya-mim ha-heim ba-ze-man ha-zeh. Blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of the universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time.
  • The Shehechyanu (This is only said the first night.) Ba-ruch ata, A-do-nai E-lo-hei-nu, me-lech ha-o-lam, she-he-chya-nu ve-ki-ya-ma-nu ve-hi-gi-a-nu laz-man-ha-zeh. Blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.

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