My most ambitious project to date, the Edelstein Hanukkia is more than just a ritual object designed to fulfill the mitzvah of observing Hanukkah. The wall-hanging, oil-burning hanukkia was designed over a period of five years as an artistic remembrance of the events of the Hanukkah story as well as a celebration of the miracle itself. Borrowing from both traditional Sephardic art and contemporary design, every detail of the solid sterling silver hanukkia is filled with meaning.
The back plate, or shield, shows an eight-branched olive tree which recalls both the Tree of Life and the olives needed to make fresh oil for the Temple's menorah in the Hanukkah story. As each branch passes through the diagonal of the sheild, it becomes part of a stylized rendering of traditional Moroccan patterns. Each side of the sheild is two tophachim (טפח) long, a measurement found in Ezekiel 40:5 and 43:13 (usually translated as “handbreadth”) that has been calculated by the rabbis to equal approximately 2.9 inches.
The phrase ensigned on the field above the oil cups is מי כמכה באלם יה mi kamocha ba'elim Adonai, "who among the mighty is like You, O Lord?" (Exodus 15:11). Judah and the Maccabees, a band of Hasmonean rebels, would would emblazon the phrase on their shields when they went into battle to invoke God's power, and the phrase itself gave the warriors their name--the acrostic formed by the initials of the words in the phrase מי כמכה באלם יה is מכבי, or "Maccabee" (which coincidentally sounds like the Hebrew word for "hammer," which is the common explanation of the name).
The oil cups, each supported by a branch of the tree in the sheild, are in the shape of eight hamsot. The hamsa is a tradtional amulet of protection in Judaic and Islamic cultures, and they are used here to represent God's hand of deliverance in helping the Maccabees defeat the Syrian armies and recapture the Temple in Jerusalem in 164 BCE. Each hamsa is one etzbah (אצבע) wide from thumb to fifth finger (approximately 1.9 cm--Jeremiah 52:21) and holds one kortov (קורטוב) of oil (approximately 5 mL--Talmud Bavli, Baba Bathra 90a).
Each hamsa has a letter of the Hebrew alphabet engraved on its palm, corresponding to each successive night of Hanukkah. Around the base of the palm is engraved a verse from the Tanakh that represents a particular meditation for each night. By lighting the oil, one is literally illuminating the scripture and releasing the energy in the verse. The selections for each night are as follows:
First night--the light of Creation.
וימר אלהים יהי אור ויהי אור
The Lord said "Let there be light" and there was light.
Second night--the light of Torah.
כי נר מצוה ותורה אור
The commandment is a lamp and the Law is the light.
Third night--the light of Justice.
צדק צדק צדק תרדף למען
Justice, justice shall you pursue.
Fourth night--the light of Mercy.
כי אם עשות משפט ואוהבת חסד
Do justice and love mercy.
Fifth night--the light of Holiness.
קדוש קדוש קדוש יה צבאות
Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts.
Sixth night--the light of Love.
ואהבת את יה אלהיך
You shall love the Lord your God.
Seventh night--the light of Patience.
דום ליה והתולל לו
Rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him.
Eighth night--the light of Courage.
Be strong and of good courage.
Unlike on most candle-burning hanukkiot, the shamash (servant flame) does not detach from the body of the hanukkia. For practical reasons, this is because using a cupful of burning oil to light the other flames would be messy and dangerous--but it goes deeper than that. The Sephardic tradition is that the shamash is actually lit last, after the other flames. A completely separate candle that does not go into the hanukkia is lit first and is used to light the ritual flames in order and lastly the shamash. Although this may seem strange to Ashkenazi Jews, according to halacha, the sole reason that the shamash exists is so that any incidental enjoyment that one derives from the lights of the hanukkia can be said to come from the shamash. The actual flames for each night are lit for ritual purposes, and therefore should not be used for enjoyment as that diminishes the mitzvah. The shamash, on the other hand, is essentially a secular light and may be enjoyed at will whether it is lit last or lit in order to light the other flames. Some Sephardic hanukkiot are even constructed without a shamash at all!