Light – A Symbol of Good

This unit discusses light as a symbol of good in the context of the Chanukah story.

Resource Ages: 9-11, 12-14


Now and in all times light will not be victorious

Until people recognize the simple and clear truth

That we must enhance the light

Not fight the darkness

(Aharon David Gordon, The Writers and the Workers, the Nation and the Labor, Zionist Organization, 1951)


Every person must know and understand

That a candle burns deep within them,

And their candle is unlike their friend’s,

And there is no person who does not have a candle.


And every person must know and understand

That they must strive to uncover

The light of the candle publicly

And light it into a great torch

And light the whole world. 

(Attributed to Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook)

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How are symbols used in celebrations and holidays?
  • How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
  • How do I grow as a result of the Jewish calendrical cycle?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • How do our actions influence our surroundings?
  • What strength does a single individual have in conditions of social injustice?

Background for Teacher

On Chanukah Jews are commanded to light on each of the eight days of the festival. The purpose of lighting the Chanukah candles is to publicize the miracles of Chanukah. In 167 BCE, King Antiochus imposed decrees against the Jewish religion in the Land...

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On Chanukah Jews are commanded to light on each of the eight days of the festival. The purpose of lighting the Chanukah candles is to publicize the miracles of Chanukah. In 167 BCE, King Antiochus imposed decrees against the Jewish religion in the Land of Israel, which was under his control. In response to the decrees, the Jews (led by the Maccabees) launched a revolt that eventually led to the emergence of an independent Jewish kingdom in the Land of Israel. The Maccabees took the Temple back from the Greeks, removed the pagan altars, and lit the Menorah (candelabra). They celebrated the dedication (in Hebrew – chanukah) of the Temple – its return to the Jewish people for the purpose of worshiping God. This victory was regarded as a miracle. Another miracle we celebrate at Chanukah is the miracle of the jug of oil. According to the Talmud, Tractate Shabbat (21b), the rebels only had a small jug of pure olive oil to light the candelabra. Although the quantity of oil in the jug was only sufficient for one day, a miracle occurred and the oil lasted for eight days. We remember these miracles as we light the Chanukah candles on each of the eight nights of the festival.

Chanukah is also known as the Festival of Lights, and light is one of its central symbols and themes. In many cultures, light serves as a symbol for good and dark for evil – this is evident in terms such as the Dark Ages or the Age of Enlightenment. In the Chanukah story, light appears as a symbol at the moment when the Maccabees secure victory over the Greeks. The light in the chanukiya serves as a symbol of good prevailing over evil. Antiochus’s decrees, against which the Maccabees fought, symbolize evil and darkness. The Hasmoneans saw these decrees as an attempt to force the Jews to abandon their religion. The decrees included attempts to force Jews to violate the Sabbath and eat non-Kosher foods, as well as a prohibition against circumcision. The Maccabees fought for their religious freedom and for their right to maintain and observe their beliefs.

This story can teach us about how to cope with immoral situations today, in our society or around the world. The sources in this unit emphasize the ability of each individual to act and to add light in the world, as well as the importance of increasing light in order to fight the darkness.

Chanukah is one of many festivals of light that are celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere in winter, around the vernal equinox on December 21. This is the shortest day of the year in this half of the world, with the most hours of darkness; after this date, the days begin to get longer again. By increasing light on these festivals, people mark the victory of humanity over the darkness of nature, alongside the symbolic meaning of light as good overcoming the bad.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study

Show the students two pictures of superheroes: one surrounded by light and the other appearing in the dark (for example: 1, 2). Ask each student to write down which superhero they think is good and which is bad. Then ask the students to work in pairs and explain each other’s decision. In the full class, ask several students to present their arguments and list the points on the board. Try to understand why most of the answers see the dark figure as evil and the light figure as good.

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. What does light represent in the Chanukah story?
  2. Why do you think light symbolizes good in Jewish culture and in many other cultures?
  3. What was the “darkness” that the Maccabees challenged? What “light” did they bring? With this in mind, what does the lighting of the chanukiya symbolize?

Regarding the quote from A.D. Gordon:

  1. What suggestion does Gordon make about the way to combat darkness? In what way is this different from the usual way people deal with darkness? Give an example of “magnifying the light.”
  2.  The quote refers to a “fight” against darkness. Explain in your own words what this image means. Can you think of historical or contemporary events that could be referred to by this image?

Regarding the quote from Rabbi Kook:

  1. What is the “candle” that Rabbi Kook refers to here? What turns the candle into a great torch? 
  2. Why is it important to emphasize that “there is no person who does not have a candle?”
  3. Why is it important for the individual and for society that we each make the light hidden inside us visible to everyone else?
  4. What things about you spread light?

Regarding both passages:

  1. What can we learn from these sources about the ability of the individual to influence their surroundings?
  2. In what ways is the symbol of light in one passage different from that in the other? Do these passages contradict each other or do they add to each other? Explain your answer. 
  3. What situations of “darkness” exist in your surroundings? How can you add light and take action in these situations?
  4.  Do you agree that darkness is always bad and light is always good? What advantages and disadvantages do light and darkness have? Is there any situation that is totally bad or totally good?


  • Study Antiochus’s decrees and ask the students to make up a slogan, symbol or flag for the protests against these decrees based on the imagery of light and darkness.
  • Sit in a circle on the floor in a fairly dark classroom. Give each student a candle (or flashlight). Each student mentions something that someone else did for them that added light to their life. After giving the example, the student lights their candle using the candle of the student who went before them (if you are using flashlights, you can symbolize the action of one flashlight “lighting” the next). Discuss the verse in Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 13:20: “Like a person who lights one candle from another – the candle is lit while the other is not diminished.”
  • Ask each student to choose one source they identify with and to use it as inspiration for a creative project – drawing, writing, music, etc.
  • Study the following sayings and ask the students to give examples from their own lives that match the “light” referred to in each saying:
    -One candle lights up all the darkness (Haim Hazaz)
    -Like a person who lights one candle from another – the candle is lit while the other is not diminished (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 13:20)
    -Wisdom in the stomach is like light in the jug (Ethiopian proverb)
    You can find more information on the Levana website.
  • Learn about lighting the Chanukah candles and the Chanukah story
  • Learn about the song Banu Choshekh Legaresh (age 6-8), which refers to the ability of each individual to conquer darkness. Which sources in this resource reflect the same message?
  • Watch this video about how good deeds can be passed on from one person to another.
  • Read this legend (midrash) about Adam, who was scared by the dark winter days:
    The Sages taught: When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: “And to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer.

    (Babylonian Talmud, Avoda Zara 8a)

    Explain the connection between this story and Chanukah. The midrash tries to provide an ancient source for Chanukah by connecting the festival to the vernal equinox.
    Ask: What did the decreasing hours of light each day symbolize for Adam? Why do think he reacted like this? In ancient times, when there was no electricity, how did the shortening days influence people’s lives? How did a festival of light in this period help them?

  • In ancient times the lack of light was a source of anxiety. In response, all around the world festivals developed that seek to magnify light during the dark season. Watch this presentation of festivals of light around the world.