When teaching us the mitzvah of lighting ner Chanukah, Chazal discuss three levels. The actual mitzvah would require a single light each night. A second level — mehadrin — is to kindle a light for each member of the household. The third level, mehadrin min hamehadrin (according to Beis Hillel), calls for steadily increasing the number of lights each night.
These levels correspond to the reactions of the Yidden who lived at the time of nes Chanukah.
There were Yidden who, upon learning of the marvelous nes that was taking place in the Beis Hamikdash, experienced genuine joy — but then allowed themselves to get caught up again in the pressures and challenges of their day-to-day lives.
Then there were those on a higher spiritual level, who were so suffused with amazement and happiness about the miracle that they ran into the streets and told everybody they met about it.
A third group of people felt as if their hearts had been set aflame with what was transpiring in Yerushalayim. Their inner being began to pour forth with continual praise to Hashem, and in their ineffable joy they could not keep themselves back from dancing and singing in the streets. As each day passed and the miracle went on, their jubilation and feelings of intense gratitude became greater and greater. They ensured that every Yid, regardless of position or profession, sensed and recognized the enormity of what was occurring.
The minimal mitzvah — one light per night per household — corresponds to those who had the minimal reaction. The mitzvah l’mehadrin — a light for each member of the home — corresponds to those who shared the glad tidings with every person they met.
The mitzvah l’mehadrin min hamehadrin — kindling an additional light each night — corresponds to the third and loftiest level. Symbolic of those who danced in the streets with a greater fervor each night, the number of lights lit are increased each night. (From the writings of the Rebbe Reb Elazar of Reisha, zy”a.)
Gratitude is a fundamental part of our relationship with Hashem, and with each passing day our gratitude should grow.. For every breath, for every step, we ought to be thanking Hashem for His boundless, infinite kindness to us.
Gratitude must also lead to introspection. As we thank Hashem for His miracles, we must also remember our obligations.
The Sanzer Rav, zy”a, often related the following anecdote on Chanukah:
There was once a simpleton who struggled mightily each morning to recall where he had placed his things the night before. He finally came up with a solution. Before retiring for the night, he took a pencil and paper, and made himself a list.
“My clothing is on the chair, my shoes are under the bed…and I am in the bed.”
In the morning he got up and carefully went through his list. He located his clothing, and dressed himself. He found his shoes and put them on. Then he came to the end of his list and went to look for himself. The list said that he was in bed, but when he looked in his bed he didn’t see himself there.
Distraught, he began to shout, “Where am I?”
So it is with man. We fret about our materialism, draw up plans about our finances, but what about our spiritual wellbeing? By the time we remember to shout, “Where am I?” it may be a bit late.
Chanukah is unique among the mitzvos for a number of reasons.
The lighting takes place at the beginning of the night, which according to Kabbalah is not an auspicious time because it is a time of din (strict judgment).
Most of the week of Chanukah is at the end of the month, a time that also not considered particularly auspicious (there are those who don’t make a chasunah at the end of a month for this reason).
Ideally the menorah should be placed below a height of ten tefachim, a physical area that is also not considered ideal. Chazal tell us that the Shechinah is not present below ten tefachim.
The halachah is that even those wicks and oils that Chazal instruct not to be used for lighting neiros Shabbos, can be used for neiros Chanukah. The Meor Einaim teaches that this symbolizes the power of Chanukah: Even those souls who aren’t on a level to be rectified through the holiness of Shabbos can find rectification in the mitzvah of hadlakas neiros Chanukah.
Regardless of the spiritual status of a Jew, no matter how far he has wandered and how low he may have sunk, on Chanukah he can reconnect to Hashem. As the tiny flickering flames light up the darkness, they light up our very souls.
This fact alone suffices for our hearts to overflow with gratitude.