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Community Blog These Candles That We Light:
A Meditation on Sacred Uselessness

By Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld

I have been thinking a lot about the words of Hanerot Hallalu this year (the prayer traditionally recited as we light the candles each night of Hanukkah).

This phrase, in particular, has captured my attention:

הנרות הללו שאנחנו מדליקים . . . קודש הם, ואין לנו רשות להשתמש בהם, אלה לראותם בלבד, כדי להודות ולהלל לשמך הגדול . . .

“These candles that we light . . . are holy, and we are not permitted to make use of them. Rather, we are only to look at them, in order to give thanks, and to praise Your great name . . .”

Why am I so taken with this phrase, and why this year?

I think because, in a world where everything and everyone seems so relentlessly at risk of being turned into a transaction, Hanerot Hallalu reminds us with a few simple words: Be careful. Not everything has to be useful.

So here is my personal meditation on Hanerot Hallalu for this Hanukkah:

Be careful. Not everything has to be useful.
More than that.
You are not permitted
to look at these candles with hungry eyes.

Don’t ask
What they can do.
Don’t ask
What you can do.
Don’t ask.

These candles are useless.
Their light is not for


Once, a teacher invited me to walk in the woods
And ask permission of each leaf I picked.
With every yes and every no
I built my altar to You
And then walked away


These candles that we light
Are holy.
Kindling them is the easy part.
But if we linger

Just look
With eyes resting
Searching for nothing
Only words of gratitude and praise
On our lips

We too will be kindled,
Useless and holy


Amidst the many important and useful things that we do, may we all be blessed with a few moments of sacred uselessness this Hanukkah!

With love and blessings,

Rabbi Sharon Cohen AnisfeldRabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld is president of Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA.

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