We learn in the Talmud (Shabbat 21), that the primary reason for the celebration of Hannukah is the miraculous burning of the single remaining pure cruise of oil which enabled Jews to rededicate the Temple and to commence rebuilding the community’s spiritual life. We find this story only in the Talmud, and perhaps it says more about our ancestors and their hope for survival, rather than actual history. Those who found the small amount of pure oil lit it, assuming that it would only last for a very short time and that they would not have the light needed to rededicate the Temple. The lamp stayed lit and the community was able to finish its holy work together. Rather than seeing the miracle in the glowing light, which lasted, I see the miracle in the hope of those who lit the lamps. They did not know what the result would be, but somehow they took the chance.
Hannukah is a time of rededication, of beginning anew, of taking those small steps without knowing the outcome. Often I hear that people are afraid to celebrate their own Judaism because it would mean that they are “religious”; a word that seems to evoke fear. Hannukah is an opportunity to rededicating ourselves to our own spiritual renewal and education. Doors are open; walk through to a new world. Often the most difficult step is the first. But like our ancestors who lit the Menorah, not knowing that there would be a miracle; we cannot know what outcome there will be in finding time for our own spiritual enrichment.
Hannukah, which comes in the darkest, sleepiest time of the year, can be a wake up call for our deepest holiest self. Lights are lit from outside and inside. Embrace the light and call it your own. As we light each night’s candle may each be dedicated to people who need light and justice: black lives matter, those who are enslaved by anti-Semitism, those who live amongst terrorist, the ones who do not have the rights they deserve, those who need physical and mental healing, those who suffer in silence and those who need peace.
How to Light the Hannukiah From “Living Judaism” and my memory
WHAT MENORAH TO LIGHT
To publicize which night of Chanukah it is, the menorah must easily display how many candles have been lit. Therefore, all 8 candleholders on the menorah should be at the same height - and preferably in a straight line. Otherwise, the candles may not be easily distinguishable and may appear as more like "one big torch."
In addition to the main 8 lights, each Menorah has an extra helper candle called the "Shamash." Since we are forbidden to use the Chanukah lights for any purpose other than "viewing," in this way any benefit is as if it is coming from the Shamash.
Since the Shamash does not count as one of the regular 8 lights, your Menorah should have the Shamash set apart in some way - either placed higher than the other candles, or significantly off to the side.
WHAT CANDLES TO LIGHT
The most important thing is that that your candles must burn for at least 30 minutes after nightfall. (Those famous colored candles just barely qualify!) Many Jewish bookstores sell longer colored candles.
Actually, it is even better to use olive oil - since the miracle of the Maccabees occurred with olive oil. Many Jewish bookstores even sell kits of pre-measured oil portions in disposable cups. These cups can simply be placed in the candleholders of any standard menorah.
WHERE TO LIGHT
To best publicize the miracle, the Menorah is ideally lit outside the doorway of your house, on the left side when entering. If this is not practical, then the Menorah should be lit in a window facing the public thoroughfare.
Someone who lives on an upper floor should light in a window. If for some reason the Menorah cannot be lit by the window, it may be lit inside the house on a table; this at least fulfills the mitzvah of "publicizing the miracle" for the members of the household.
Since the mitzvah occurs at the actual moment of lighting, the Menorah must be lit in a proper place. Moving the Menorah to a proper place after lighting does not fulfill the mitzvah.
WHEN TO LIGHT
The Menorah should preferably be lit immediately at nightfall. It is best to wait, however, until all the members of the household are present. This adds to the family atmosphere and also maximizes the mitzvah of "publicizing the miracle." However, the Menorah can be lit (with the blessings) late into the night, as long as people are still awake.
The Menorah should remain lit for at least 30 minutes after nightfall, during which time no use should be made of its light.
On Friday afternoon, the Menorah should be lit 18 minutes before sundown. And since the Menorah needs to burn for 30 minutes into the night, the candles used on Friday need to be bigger than the regular "coloured candles" (which typically don't burn longer than a half-hour).