In this Sicha, the Rebbe explains the Mitzvah of the Chanukah lights, and concentrates on two of their features, that they are to be placed by the door of one’s house that is adjacent to the street, or the public domain, and that they must be placed on the left-hand side of the door. These features have a deep symbolism: The “left-hand side” and the “public domain” both stand for the realm of the profane, and by placing the lights there, we are, as it were, bringing the Divine light into the area of existence which is normally most resistant to it. The Sicha goes on to explain the difference between the positive and negative commandments in their effect on the world, and concludes with a comparison between the Chanukah lights and tefillin.
1. The Chanukah Lights and the Mezuzah
The Mitzvah of the Chanukah lights is similar in two respects to that of the mezuzah: Both have to be placed by the side of the door of a house or a courtyard, and both must be set on the outside.1 But there are also two significant differences between them. The mezuzah must be fixed on the right-hand side of the door, and the Chanukah lights set on the left.2 And though both are placed outside, in the case of the mezuzah, this is only to signify where the house or the courtyard begin—to mark the entrance. On the other hand the Chanukah lights are intended specifically to illuminate the outside, the public domain. The mezuzah, as it were, points inward while the Menorah shines outward.
These two points of difference may be connected. For the “public domain” (reshut ha-rabim; literally, “the domain of the many”) suggests the idea of multiplicity or lack of unity; and the “left-hand side” is the name for the source of that life in which there is separation and disunity. “Public domain” and “left-hand side” are therefore related by being symbolic names for the dimension of division and alienation from G-d.3
2. The Mezuzah and the Other Commandments
The precept of mezuzah is said to be equal in importance to all the other Mitzvot together: It is said to include them all within itself.4 So we would expect to find them all sharing the two features which characterize the mezuzah—the idea of the right hand, and of being directed inward rather than towards the outside.
And almost all of them do.
Most have to be performed with the right hand.5 Indeed, burnt offerings were vitiated if they were not offered with the right hand.6 Also, certain commandments must be performed indoors, while those which may be done outside have no integral connection with the idea of the “public domain,” since they may also be performed indoors—in short, they have no connection with place at all.
It follows that the Chanukah lights—which occupy the left-hand side, and are intended for the outside—have a different character to almost every other precept in Judaism.
3. Positive and Negative Commands
This difference between the mezuzah (and all other Mitzvot) and the Chanukah lights is analogous to another distinction—between the positive and negative commands.
The positive commands (can only be performed with objects which) belong to the domain of the permitted;7 the negative to the (non-performance of the) forbidden.
Every performance of a Mitzvah brings spiritual life to the world—in the form of “Divine light.” And the light which is drawn down by the fulfillment of a positive command is of the kind that can be internalized in the act, “clothed” or contained within it. The act “clothes” the light in the same way as the body “clothes” the soul. But a Divine light which can be contained in such a way is finite, taking on the character of that which contains it.8 It cannot descend to the realm of the impure or forbidden, for the character of the forbidden is that of a negation of G-d’s will, and this is a character which a light which emanates from G-d cannot take on.
On the other hand, the light which inhabits this and which is released by the fulfillment of a negative command, is infinite. It cannot be contained by the forbidden (or indeed by any) act, nor does it share its character, and so it can be released not by performing it, but only by refraining from it. Indeed, only an infinite light could descend this far into impurity, being, as it were, undimmed where it shines.
And the Chanukah light is of this infinite kind, because it brings light to the “left-hand side” and the “public domain”—both symbols of impurity and alienation from G-d.
In fact the Chanukah light goes beyond the negative commandment for it is, in itself, a positive command. Refraining from a forbidden act may negate it. But the Chanukah lights do not negate but illuminate and purify the world of “outside”—just as a positive command purifies the world of “inside” (i.e., the permitted).
And this is the connection between the Chanukah lights and the Torah, which is itself called a “light.”9 For the Torah also concerns itself with (specifying) the acts which are forbidden and the things which are impure. And through studying the Torah, the sparks of holiness embedded in the realm of the forbidden are released and elevated.10
4. The Chanukah Lights and Tefillin
It is known that the seven commandments which the Rabbis instituted, one of which is the command of the Chanukah lights, derive ultimately from commandments to be found in the Torah.11 So there must be amongst the Torah commandments one which is an analogue of the lights of Chanukah, one which brings the Divine light into the “left-hand side” and the “public domain.” And this is the Mitzvah of tefillin. For the hand-tefillin are worn on the left arm (the weaker arm, i.e., the left if the person is right-handed), and the reason is, as explained in the Zohar,12 that the “Evil Inclination” (the “left side of the heart”; the voice of emotional dissent to G-d’s will) should itself be “bound” into the service of G-d. And the head-tefillin must be worn uncovered and exposed so that “all the people of the earth shall see that the name of the L-rd is called upon you; and they shall be in awe of you.”13 Its purpose, then, is to reveal G-dliness to “all the people of the earth” and to cause them to be “in awe.” So it is, that the tefillin, like the Chanukah lights are directed to the “left-hand side” and the “public domain”—towards that which lies “outside” the recognition of G-d.
In the light of this we can understand the Rabbinic saying that “the whole Torah is compared to (the commandment of) tefillin.”14 The tefillin have, like Torah, the power to effect a purification even in the realm of the profane.
5. The Mitzvah of Tefillin
On Chanukah one has to give an extra amount of charity,15 “both in money and in person,”16 both material and spiritual charity. And since the Mitzvah of tefillin has, as we have seen, a special connection with the lights of Chanukah, Chanukah is itself a particularly appropriate and pressing time to devote to the work of the “tefillin campaign,” helping as many other Jews as possible to participate in the Mitzvah.
And when one brings it about that another Jew fulfills the Mitzvah of tefillin, then, as it is recorded in the Mishna, “a Mitzvah draws another Mitzvah in its train.”17 If this is true for any Mitzvah, all the more is it true of tefillin to which are compared all the other Mitzvot.18 And so from the seed of this single observance will grow, in time, the observance of all the others.
The miracle of Chanukah is apparent not only in the fact that “for Your people Israel You worked a great deliverance and redemption as at this day’’—a deliverance from a people who were “impure,” “wicked” and “arrogant,” and despite their being “strong” and “many”; but also in the result that “afterwards Your children came into Your most holy house, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, and kindled lights in Your holy courtyards.”19
And so it is with tefillin. By the observance of this Mitzvah, not only is a “deliverance and redemption” achieved from “all the people of the earth”—for since they will be “in awe of you,” they will no longer stand in opposition to Israel, but will be as if “our hearts melted, and there was no courage left in any man because of you.”20 But also, and as a consequence of the Mitzvah, “Your children (will come) into Your most holy house”—into the Third Temple which will be revealed speedily on earth, as a sign of the Messianic Age.
(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. V pp. 223-7)