Perhaps you’re someone who’s lived your whole life having other people set up menorahs for you, and now you’ve finally moved out and are wondering how to set one up on your own. I mean, does it go right side up, or what?
Or perhaps you’re someone who’s been setting up menorahs for years, and are just now wondering if you’ve been doing it wrong, mostly because I brought it up.
Or perhaps you’re someone who’s been lighting in yeshivas for several years, and you don’t know what you’re supposed to do if you have fewer than a hundred menorahs, and your kallah’s like, “I don’t know; you’re the one who sets up my leichter every Friday.”
Either way, the most essential part of making Chanukah is lighting the menorah. Followed by – in order from most to least essential – doughnuts, playing dreidel, doughnuts, latkes, presents, chocolate shaped like money, doughnuts, and that party your shul makes where someone wins a gym membership.
Where to Set It Up
To begin with, you need to set up a lighting station. Ideally, you want to find a window facing the street, as opposed to that window you have that faces your neighbor’s kitchen sink. Chances are you have furniture up against that window all year, unless you’re one of those yentas who has the couches pointed at the window, so you’re definitely going to need to move some furniture around.
Speaking of moving things around, fire professionals say you should set up your candles at least ten feet from anything flammable, such as window shades. Unfortunately, you have to put your menorah near the window, so what are you gonna do? I would say you should remove your window shades and move them to a safe area, such as where you’re going to be dancing. Then, when the candles go out each night, you can reinstall the drapes so you can go to bed.
That said, many families will leave their front window shades open so you can see their set-up and know what to do for your own home. Feel free to press your face against the glass to get a good look. Especially as they’re lighting.
Your other option is to light your menorah outside, taking care to move and replant any bushes or trees that may present a fire hazard. Some people light in a fish tank, because there is no recorded instance of there ever being a fire in a fish tank. But just in case, you should remove all of the fish before you light.
Setting Up Your Table
- Ideally, you want a table that doesn’t shake.
- Most people use folding tables.
- Those two sentences are unrelated.
Once you have a table, you need to take all the foil that you used to line the walls of your kitchen on Pesach that you were unsure of how to throw out – all those 10-foot lengths of bulletproof foil – and repurpose it into lining your entire living room. If you still have the foil that you wrapped your aravos in, take that out of the fridge for goodness sake and use that too. We don’t know what Yidden did before the invention of foil. Do non-Jews even buy foil? What do they use it for? They make big meals like twice a year.
Note that you don’t do anything like this for Shabbos candles. All your wife gets is a tray, and then you have a full Shabbos meal next to it.
Choosing a Menorah
There are a lot of decisions to make here. For example, do you want a menorah or a chanukiyah? They look exactly the same to the naked eye, so make sure to ask the person at the store to point you to the right section. So he knows what kind of customer he’s dealing with. He will probably recommend you buy one of each.
Sure, some people will tell you that a menorah has seven branches, and a chanukiyah has nine. But all the seforim call the thing that we light a menorah. So I say that maybe a menorah has branches, while a Chanukiyah has sports equipment, choo-choo trains, cats, soda cans, Dreidels, and for some reason fire trucks. I am not sure what choo-choo trains have to do with Chanukah, and neither does the Taamei Minhagim. But I do know that if you light candles like that on top of a real train, they would go out basically instantly (even if you use a fish tank, I think), and if they do not, low bridges will be a problem.
Choosing What You’re Lighting
OPTION #1: CANDLES
This is the preferred lighting method of kids. Candles are easier to light, because all you have to do is pick out pretty colors from the box, and then ask an adult to clean out yesterday’s debris and melt in today’s.
Plus, the kids get all excited about the candles, because fun fact: The different colors taste different.
A standard box comes with 44 candles, which is enough for one person for the entire Chanukah, provided no candles are broken. So you should probably check in the store, like with eggs. How is one candle broken if the entire box is standing-room only? Shouldn’t it be all or none?
OPTION #2: OIL
Most people choose to light with oil, because, for example, figuring out how to make a Chanukah candle last for an hour and a half on a Friday night is impossible. And taping three candles together does not work. In fact, it makes them go out faster. Maybe stack the candles end to end, using some kind of flammable tape or a tiny trench coat?
In general, people prefer to use olive oil, because it played a big role in the story. The story isn’t about how the Chashmonaim could only find one lone candle that wasn’t broken – all the other candles had been cracked in half by the Greeks, in a mad spree, or by accident – and they could only find this one candle, and it was yellow. They checked through all the boxes. And to get new candles back then, it took 8 business days. You had to go to the honey farm, and get some beeswax, and then run, because you’d woken up all the bees… I actually don’t know how to make candles. For all I know, it might take 8 days.
The main downside of oil is that somehow – and we blame science – it travels through all the layers of silver foil to make your table greasy. No matter how much foil you put down, your table will be covered in oil. This is another reason Chazal suggested we just light outside.
Also, what they don’t tell you is that you can’t just light with oil – you also need wicks. That’s how they get you.
- STANDARD WICKS
The store has several different sizes of these, and you have to know how big your little glass cups are. You can’t just assume they’re little.
You also have to buy those metal spider things that hold them upright in the glass. Are the spider legs supposed to go at the top or the bottom? I’ve done both. I have no idea.
- FLOATING WICKS
Floating wicks are great if you don’t know the size of your glasses, as well as if you don’t want your candles to burn until all hours of the night, because they will flip over almost immediately after you light them. Possibly because you put too much of the wick on top of the floater, or possibly because the piece of foil they put on top is heavier than the little slice of wine cork they used. Is the foil supposed to go on bottom? I may have been using these wrong.
- HOMEMADE WICKS
This is an advanced level that should not be attempted by someone who is learning how to set up his menorah via a humor column. No offense.
- PRE-MADE LIGHTING CUPS
These are really convenient, because you get to save a whole two minutes that would otherwise be spent preparing a mitzvah. Like candles, these also come with exactly enough in each package, but if one is broken, you’ll know. Like with eggs.
How to Light
First you need to bring a lit candle from the stove, which is nowhere near the front window of your house. Some people keep a lighter near their menorahs, but you have kids, so no thanks. You’d rather walk across your house really slowly with your hand in front to protect it from the wind. I have no idea how people who light outside pull this off. It’s hard enough to borrow fire on Yom Tov when it’s nice outside.
Once you’ve brought the fire to the lighting station, you’re going to need to stand there with the tiny candle burning down while everyone else gets their acts together. As soon as you give up and blow it out, they’ll be ready.
Once you’ve lit, you can sing Maoz Tzur. Many families join hands and dance, although you should not be dancing near the menorahs if your floor is any kind of shaky, which is just as well, because you probably shouldn’t be dancing near an open window. Especially not with your neighbor’s face pressed against it.
When you’re done, you can sit down, carefully, and enjoy the menorah from the relative comfort of your bulletproof-foil lined couch.
Happy Chanuk—Oh wait; mine went out.