Just Looking: A Meditation on the Hannukah Lights

How many times has something like the following interaction occurred in your life? You walk into a store. You glance around at the merchandize deliberating whether or not you want to really invest the time to check the place out. A salesperson, representative, greeter, hospitality agent, or whatever they are calling themselves these days asks, “Can I help you find something?” “No thanks,” you reply, “I’m just looking.” Just looking?

Think about those two words for a moment. Just looking. Is looking so unimportant, unnecessary, or unhelpful that we need to modify it with the “just” beforehand? If we didn’t look, how could we even get started? If we didn’t look, how would we learn anything? If we didn’t look, how would we possibly know whether or not we want to buy something? As the child of an ophthalmologist I was trained not to think of sight and seeing as a little thing. While other parents would say: “Cut out that rough housing you’re going to kill each other!” Or, “Knock it off before someone breaks their neck!” My dad would always say, “Stop it now before someone looses an eye!”


Hannukah comes to teach us the importance of just looking. Consider the words of Hanerot Hallalu, which we say each night after the candle blessings: “Ayn lanu reshut l’heshtamaysh b’hem, eleh lerotam belvad. We are not allowed to use these candles only to look at them.” Not just look at them, but ONLY look at them. Oddly enough, tradition permits us to read by the light of Shabbat or festival candles. It is only Hannukah candles that we are told are exclusively for the purpose of beholding.

Life should not be limited to a list of accomplishments. We Jews place a heavy emphasis on doing, yet we also acknowledge that actions are not the be all and end all of human existence. These nights and these lights are about transcending the to do list and celebrating the to be list. Watch the lights of the candles dance. Allow little things to dazzle you. Relinquish pessimism a little and let the human potential for goodness amaze you. Think of what these lights have meant throughout history, what they mean now, and what they may mean for generations to come. And while we’re all doing that, let us promise ourselves that we won’t forget the importance of elah lirotam bilvad, that only, simply, merely, looking at the lights and at each other is a blessing, a miracle, and a gift that we must not take for granted.

Happy Just Looking, Happy Hannukah and Hag Urim Sameach.

Baruch Ata Adoni Ha’Tov V’Hameitev. Blessed Are You O God, Who is good and who brings good to us.


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