What is the message conveyed by the light of the Chanukah candles? Here's how Maimonides, the great medieval scholar of Jewish law and philosophy, presents it:
On Chanukah, there is a mitzvah to perform what is called "pirsumei nisa," publicizing the miracle of the holiday, by lighting the candles. This idea of spreading the word about a miracle comes up on two other holidays as well: On Purim, it is the reason given for reading the Book of Esther, and on Passover, it is the explanation for drinking four cups of wine.
Who is the audience for this message? On Passover, the word gets around the seder table. On Purim, the community comes together to hear the story of Esther. What about on Chanukah? Who are the candles for?
The Talmud tells us that one can light anytime from sunset until everyone is home and the streets are empty. Some interpreters read this description of the stragglers as being about another nation - non-Jews - who were usually the last to leave the marketplace. It seems that the audience for candlelighting can and should be anyone and everyone.
In fact, Maimonides writes that if you are the only one who sees the Chanukah candles, and everyone else just thinks you are standing there holding some candles so you can see in the dark, you haven't fulfilled the mitzvah of candlelighting!
On the other hand...
Even though the Talmud tells us to light outside, in the dark, where everyone can see it, we are also told that if it is dangerous to do so, you can light indoors, and that fulfills the obligation. There are lots of reasons why one might not be able to show off the candlelight to everyone, and it turns out in a pinch, just you and your family seeing the candles might be enough.
What do you think we accomplish by lighting Chanukah candles? What message are we communicating?
Who do you think this message is designed for? Who needs to see those lights?