Chanukah: Not Just for Elitists
Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein
Director of Training and Placement, Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel
About a year ago, a Straus-Amiel emissary serving a community abroad, was interested in sending his daughter to an Orthodox high school in Israel, due to the lack of any Jewish school in his community. When searching various options for them, one stands in my mind and bothers me till this very day; the interviewer said that he only accepts “the elite of the religious community” into his school, so “how can a girl who grew up in a non-Jewish environment abroad fit into such a terrain?”
All my attempts to explain that the girl in question was the daughter of a rabbi, to remind him of her father’s dedication in giving up the comfort of living in the Holy-Land in order to serve a community thirsty for Torah abroad, received the same response: “We are a school for the elite of the religious community only!”
In my sadness at his response – his unwillingness to, at the very least, meet and test the girl – and feeling that my pleas were falling on deaf ears, I ended the conversation with the following question: “Rabbi, do you believe that, during the eight nights of Chanukah, every Jew is Rabbinically obligated to light candles in/around their home, either at the entrance/window or on the table?”
He of course answered in the affirmative, quoting the sources in the footnotes below. To which I retorted that, according to his “educational” thinking, shouldn’t it be limited….to the elite?
After all, it’s rather hard not to see the very explicit similarities between the above commandment eight nights a year and the daily obligation to light the Menorah…. in the holiest, most elite place in the Jewish world, the Temple;
- Vessel– While not obligatory, many/most Jews light these candles within a vessel of some sort as was done in the Temple.
- Oil– While all oils/candles/wicks are valid for this Mitzva, there is a special enhancement of it if one uses oil. This is in contradistinction to Shabbat, where there are very explicit limitations as to which oils/candles/wicks one can use to fulfill the Mitzva of lighting Shabbat candles.
- Olive Oil– While all oils are valid for this Mitzva, the Talmud speaks of using olive oil (Shabbat 32a) because of its higher quality. Having said that, an additional reason is suggest later:
מצוה מן המובחר להדליק נרות חנוכה בשמן זית… ועוד שהנס נעשה בשמן זית(ערוך השולחן, אורח חיים סימן תרעג/א)
There is an enhancement of the Mitzva to light the Chanukah candles with olive oil….and also, because the miracle was done through olive oil . (Aruch HaShulchan, 673/1.)
- Purpose– Indeed, as the Shabbat Candles are there to illuminate the room, versus the Chanukah Candles, many have said that one fulfills the obligation of Shabbat Candles by using certain electric lights. But since the Chanukah candles are just for the sake of a Mitzva it thus remind us of the Temple and its Menorah, which, according to most, has to be something that burns out as it goes , such as oil or wax.
- Benefit– One is not allowed to use the candles for any purpose other than the above Mitzva, such as using its light to count change, read a book, etc’. Indeed, within the Temple, there is a prohibition known as מעילה/Me’I’la, which prohibits using the sanctified items of the Temple for anything other than its purpose. Thus, explains the Rashba, as one of two suggestions to this prohibition;
וטעמא דמילתא, משום דעל ידי נס שנעשה במנורה תקנו, והלכך, עשאוה כמנורה שאסור להשתמש לאורה, (חידושי הרשב”א, מסכת שבת דף כא עמוד ב, ד”ה אמר רב ירמיה)
The reason is that, due to the miracle that was done with the Menorah they made this enactment thus they enacted it as the Menorah that one is not allowed to use its oil (Rashba, Tractate Shabbat 21b d”h Amar Rav Yirmiya)
Or, in the words of the Meiri:
ויש באים בה מטעם איסור הנאה וקדושה גמורה, הואיל והן זכר לנרות ולשמן היכל הקצהו מדעתו לגמרי (בית הבחירה למאירי, שבת כ”א עמוד א’)
But some have come and explained the reason for this as a prohibition of deriving benefit, due to its total sanctity. Whereas commemorate the candles and oil in the Temple, one totally make it untouchable in one’s mind (Beit HaBechira to the Meiri, Tractate Shabbat 21a.)
So too, was codified by the Levush;
כיון שע”י נס שנעשה במנורה תקנוה, עשאוה כמנורה שאין משתמשין בה כלל, שהרי לפנים היתה עומדת בהיכל מקום שלא ראו בני אדם את אורה, (לבוש, אורח חיים, סימן תרעג/ב )
Because that, by virtue of the miracle that happened with the Menorah, they made this enactment, they made as that of the Menorah not to use as all, as it stood inside the Temple, in a place that nobody saw its light (Levush, OC, 673/2.)
- Lighting versus having it lit– The point of view, accepted as law, is that הדלקה עושה מצווה/The actual lighting is the command and no the הנחה/the placing of the Chanukiya in the right place, already lit. Rashi explains thus;
אי המצוה של חנוכה תלויה בהדלקה – מדליקין, כדאשכחן במנורה. (רש”י מסכת שבת דף כב עמוד ב ד”ה אי הדלקה)
- Blessing= The first of the Berachot we say before lighting the Chanukah candles is ברוך….להדליק נר חנוכה. In explaining why some Rabbinic commandments ,] gets the formulation of “על”/on doing a Mitzva, and others the prefix of “ל”/to do the Mitzva, despite the fact that both are about to be done the Raavad offers various explanations, one of which is that, perhaps, rabbinic commandments get the latter formulation, versus biblical commandments getting the former. However, if this distinction is true Chanukah candles are a Rabbinic obligation and yet get the formulation of “על”/on? Thus, explains the Raavad:
א”נ, מפני שזו הברכה הוקבעה על הנרות שבמקדש שהן של תורה. לפיכך עשאוהו כשל תורה. (השגת הראב”ד, הרמב”ם, הלכות ברכות פרק יא הלכה טו)
Also, because this Beracha was instituted on the candles that were lit in the Temple, which is Biblical, therefore is like those which are biblical (Raavad’s glosses, Rambam’s Code, Laws of Berachot, 11/15)
- Leftover oil– Even after the Holiday is over, one should not use the leftover oil from the candles for any other purpose, but rather make a fire and burn it. While the Code explains the reason for this as due to the fact that it was designated for the Mitzva he adds that one is not allowed to add more oil to the leftover oil so that it would become nullified by a ratio of 60/1. This addition is rather difficult as the Code allows one to do this in cases of Rabbinic prohibitions One of the answers given to this seeming contradiction, is by Rav S.Z Aurbach:
…נתנו על זה שם קודש ועשאוהו כהקדש, ולכן אסור להוסיף ולבטל את מותר השמן משום דהוי בזיון לבטל קודש….גם לאחר חנוכה אסור לנהוג בו מנהג בזיון דהוי כהקדש (שו”ת מנחת שלמה תנינא, ב-ג/נ”ח)
… put upon it the properties of “Kodesh” and made it like Hekdesh/like a holy vessel designatated to the Temple. Therefore, one can’t add to nullify the remaining oil, as this would be disgracing it by nullifying Kodesh….and therefore even after Chanukah one can’t disgrace it as it’s like Hekdesh (Responsa Minchat Shlomo, Tanina, 2-3/ 58.)
Going through 8 days of a semi-Temple experience within our own homes, having these Chanukiyas shining each night, leads one to believe that our sages indeed wanted each home to be a semi-temple, each home has both the option and obligation to allow the Jewish-Torah lifestyle into it, to such an extent that the laws governing this remembrance of the miracle of the oil in the Temple, during the days of Chanukah, mimics the laws of the Menorah there! In other words, lighting a Menorah was not enough but rather almost totally lighting it in accordance with the laws of lighting the Menorah within the Temple.
The Temple was a place of prayer, sacrifices, song and more,] communal celebrations, and much more, all of which were part and parcel of our service of G-d. Our homes – where the majority of the 365 days a year are spent by both the most simple Jews and the elite – teach the laws of Chanukah. They can and must be places which are the most important part of our religious experience. Beyond the endless examples in Jewish law between the Temple that was, and our actions outside of it, and mainly at home, in the present, our sages gave us this eight-day experience, because they expect – and have the confidence – that we can turn our homes in places of worship of G-d, from the way we eat, to the way we relate to our spouses and children, how we spend our leisure time, and much more.
Thus, once a year, Temple-oriented laws penetrate our homes, and hopefully, the experience of keeping them in every home to the key will naturally not allow a Jew to utter the words, “My school is just for the elite of the religious world!” The Jewish home, in which the aforementioned girl grew up, was a secure and rooted Jewish one, not to mention a home of a rabbi; a home which was a haven of religiosity the entire year, a semi-Temple and a place of constant worship of G-d, year-round. I would hope more schools would share the confidence our sages had in this profound power of the Jewish home, allowing more and more girls and boys the gift of a Jewish education.
Code of Jewish Law, OC, 671/1 includes even a poor person, who has to sell what he can to buy them, and though the Code says, based on the Talmud that 1 “Menorah” per home is enough, the Rama brings the other custom that each person in that home lights their own. Though the Talmud states that women are obligated in this rabbinic commandment and thus women light just like men, there is a custom, based on the novel view of the Mishna Berura that אשתו כגופו/”one’s wife is like himself,” and thus, even if there is a custom for each person to light, a husband lighting is like lighting for his wife.
Responsa Beit Yizchak YD 1/120/5, see also various views in Responsa Yabia Omer 2/17, versus Responsa Teshuvot Vehanhagot 2/154. Most recently, see such electric “Shabbat-candles” produced by the “Zomet” institute, explained by its head, Rav Yisrael Rozen, in this article: http://www.zomet.org.il/?CategoryID=398&ArticleID=968
Code of Jewish Law, OC, 673/1, and see ibid that this is the reason the common custom is to light a “Shamash“, an extra candle so that if the lights go out/if one does “utilize” the candles, one will in essence be using this extra one only. Indeed, the common custom is to say the brief prayer of הנרות הללו right after candle lighting , which, based on its source makes reference to the fact that “אין לנו רשות להשתמש בהם אלא לראותם בלבד/”We can’t use/benefit from them but rather just observe them.”
See, for example, the Meiri, Tractate Shabbat 21a that brings the other common opinion that the reason for this prohibition is “משום בזויי מצוה”/”as it disgraces the Mitzva,”i.e.- it is not appropriate to use the candles for anything else, but the Mitzva of lighting it for the sake of Chanukah.
Code of Jewish Law, OC, 673/2. The practical ramification if that if the candles go out, after being properly lit in a place where they have a probable chance of staying on for the proper requisite amount of time there is no need to re-light them, as the Mitzva is to “light” them not have them “lit” in a certain place, per-se.
Code ibid 677/4. This is according to the opinion of the Geonim and Midrash Tanchuma, brought in the interpretation of the Ramban, Tractate Shabbat 21b, against that of the Rambam and the Rosh that allow using the leftover oil after Chanukah, just like one can use the Schach and Sukkah walls for anything one pleases after Sukkot/after there is no longer a Mitzva obligating us.
i.e. “Three people sitting together and sharing words of Torah is like eating from the Alter” (Tractate Avot 3/3,) our dining-room table being in place of the Alter (Tractate Menachot 97a,) praying with the mindset as if one is standing in the Temple (Code of Jewish Law, OC, 95/2,) saying the verses and passages that refer to the sacrifices is as if we sacrificed them (Tractate Taanit 27b, Code ibis 1/5-9,) learning the laws of the sacrifices is like sacrificing them, (Tracate Menachot 110a,) and tragically, if a great righteous leader dies, it acts like the atonement of the Alter (Tractate Moed Katan 28a,) and many more.