"Come on, Yankie," urged his younger brother Yehudah as the Stern family finished singing HaNeiros Hallalu. "Let's play dreidel."
"Wait a minute, Yehudah," Mr. Stern said, pulling some chairs over to the menorah. "First, let's listen to what the candles are saying."
"But Daddy," protested four-year-old Shifi, "Candles can't talk!"
Mr. Stern sat Shifi on his lap as the other children gathered around.
"On Chanukah, the Previous Rebbe would tell his chassidim that they should listen to what the candles are telling them. He meant that we should think about the mitzvah we have just performed, and learn the many lessons that the Chanukah candles teach us. Did you know that all the mitzvos are called 'candles'?"
"Yes," answered Yankie. "We learned that the Torah is called 'light' and every mitzvah which we do is like a lamp or a candle which brings more of HaShem's holiness into this world."
"Very good, Yankie. But there is something very special about the mitzvah of the Chanukah candles. You see, as we fulfill mitzvos such as wearing tzitzis, washing our hands, and eating kosher, we don't always sense how HaShem's light is brightening up the world. But watching the flickering candles makes it much easier to understand that mitzvos light up the world, because we can actually see the light."
Little Shifi tugged at her father's arm. "Daddy, you keep saying candles, but these aren't really candles. They are cups with oil and cotton. In kindergarten, we had real candles. There was a red one and a blue one and a green one."
Mr. Stern smiled. "It's okay to use regular wax candles like you did in school, but in many Jewish homes all over the world the menorah is lit with oil and wicks."
"And not just any oil," added Yehudah. "We use pure olive oil just like the kohanim used in the Beis HaMikdash. Our teacher told us that this is 'mitzvah min hamuvchar' - a better way to keep the mitzvah."
"Actually," explained Mr. Stern, "It's more than mitzvah min hamuvchar. We keep this mitzvah, mehadrin min hamehadrin - the very best way.
"First, like Yehudah said, we're using the best oil. Second, it would be enough to light one menorah for the whole family, but we have everyone light his own. Third, we're adding a new light every day.
"You see, it would be enough to light only one candle each day, but the best way to do the mitzvah is to light two on day two, three on day three and so on.
"And we are eager to do this mitzvah the very best way - mehadrin min hamehadrin - every single day. We don't say 'We did it so well yesterday, we don't have to do it so perfectly today.'
"This is exactly what the Maccabees did. They were determined to use pure olive oil which was untouched by the Greeks. According to halachah, they could have used less-perfect oil, but because they strived for the best, HaShem helped them and made a miracle with the oil."
"By the way, Daddy," Yehudah suddenly remembered. "What about Chanukah gelt? And I hope you'll be mehadrin with me because I helped mommy today. Don't I deserve a bonus for helping?"
"Yehudah!" Yankie reprimanded his little brother. "You haven't been listening to the candles! We are not allowed to use or enjoy the light of the candles. We only light them because HaShem says we should. This teaches us to do mitzvos because HaShem says so, and not in order to get something out of it."
"Look at the candles," Shifi called. "They look like they're twinkling at us, because they're so happy we listened to what they have to say!"
(Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vols. I and V, Chanukah)