The Essential Menorah

The Essential Menorah: Placing, Lighting and Illuminating

Rabbi Rafi Eis
Faculty, Midreshet Lindenbaum


 

In the process of discussing whether one can use the fire from one Chanukah candle to light another Chanukah candle, the gemara Shabbat 22b states:

אמר רב הונא בריה דרב יהושע חזינא אי הדלקה עושה מצוה מדליקין מנר לנר ואי הנחה עושה מצוה אין מדליקין מנר לנר.

“Rav Huna the son of Rav Yehoshua says, we see that if lighting performs the mitzvah then we may light from one candle to another, if placing performs the mitzvah, then we may not light from one candle to another.”

In general, we do not use a mitzvah object to perform another action.  In this case however, if הדלקה, lighting the candles accomplishes the mitzvah, one may use the mitzvah object to perform a continuation of the same mitzvah.  If however, הנחה, placing would accomplish the mitzvah, then one could not use a Chanukah candle to light another, as that would be denigrating a mitzvah object.

The gemara concludes that הדלקה עושה מצוה, the lighting of the Chanukah candles performs the mitzvah, and therefore, one may use the flame of one Chanukah candle to directly light another Chanukah candle.  The gemara then adds that the text of the blessing “,להדליק נר של חנוכה” “to light the Chanukah candles” proves that the act of lighting accomplishes the mitzvah.

Two halachot highlight that the primary mitzvah is to light the candles.  First, the gemara (Shabbat 23a) states that the act of lighting must be performed by a person obligated in the מצוה.  Had, הנחה, the placing, performed the mitzvah, then someone like a minor, who is not obligated in the command, could do the act of lighting.  Second, the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 673:2) decides that since the lighting performs the mitzvah, if the candles get extinguished early, then there is no obligation to rekindle the candles.

The initial explanation of this this debate about whether the lighting or placing performs the mitzvah, is about whether the mitzvah of Chanukah candles is primarily an obligation on the person, גברא, to light, or primarily on the object, חפצא, to be lit and illuminate.

On a deeper level, Chanukah candles achieve פרסומי ניסא, publicizing the Chanukah miracle.  It would seem at first glance that the lit candles publicize the miracle, emphasizing the חפצא aspect of the mitzvah.

In fact, the gemara (Shabbat 21b) requires that the Chanukah candles be lit outside, by the doorway to the home or courtyard seemingly for the Jewish and non-Jewish viewers of the candles.  A Jew recites the bracha of שעשה ניסים, “who performs miracles,” on seeing another’s lit Chanukah candles (Shabbat 23a), and the time restrictions of to light the candles depends on when non-Jews are still in the marketplace (Shabbat 21b).  If the command is directed for the onlooker, that would support הנחה עושה מצוה.

Further, the gemara (Shabbat 21a-b, 22a) also has a few debates whether one may use the Chanukah lights for alternate purposes.  The Ritv”a (22b s.v. Amar Rav Huna) explains that the opinions that prohibit using the Chanukah light for personal benefit aligns with the opinion of הנחה עושה מצוה. While we decide הדלקה עושה מצוה, in this instance we also conclude (S.A., O.C. 673:1) that one may not use the light for alternate purposes, though some are lenient for Torah learning.

What stands behind the accepted opinion that the act of lighting accomplishes the mitzvah?  How can it publicize the miracle if it only takes a few moments?  What are the chances of a bystander seeing the act of lighting?  If we decide that the הדלקה, lighting, performs the mitzvah, why do we still keep some laws related to הנחה, placing?

Based on these questions, Rav Soloveitchik (Harerei Kedem, vol. 1, chapter 165) posits, that there are two aspects to the mitzvah, to light the menorah and to publicize the miracle.  The lighting of the candles corresponds to our obligation of זכר למקדש, to remember the Beit HaMikdash, and specifically on Chanukah we recall the mitzvah of lighting the menorah in the Beit HaMikdash.  The second aspect of Chanukah candles is publicizing the miracle, which we accomplish through having the candles remaining lit.  The first aspect is not about publicizing the miracle.

During periods of antisemitism, where we light the menorah inside the house and away from public view, we only fulfill the first aspect and not the second.  Similarly, in regular times, we will keep our candles lit to publicize the miracle, and will not detract from that publicity by counting money by the Chanukah lights, but we also need not ensure that the candles remain lit, since publicizing the miracle is the secondary component of the mitzvah.

Until this point, we have stated that the opinion of הנחה עושה מצוה means that the continued illumination, the placement, of the candles is the mitzvah, and the lit candles being seen by the public.  The opinion that believes הדלקה עושה מצוה, on the other hand, emphasizes the obligation on the individual to light the candles.

A closer look at the gemara, however, indicates a different understanding of הנחה עושה מצוה.  In trying to prove הנחה or הדלקה, the gemara (22b-23a) says:

תא שמע דאמר רבי יהושע בן לוי (דף כג עמוד א( עששית שהיתה דולקת והולכת כל היום כולו למוצאי שבת מכבה ומדליקה אי אמרת בשלמא הדלקה עושה מצוה שפיר אלא אי אמרת הנחה עושה מצוה האי מכבה ומדליקה מכבה ומגביהה ומניחה ומדליקה מיבעי ליה.

Come and learn: As Rabbi Joshua son of Levi said, a crystal lamp that was lit for the whole Shabbat day, on Saturday night, one should extinguish it and rekindle it.  This makes sense if lighting performs the mitzvah, if however, placing performs the mitzvah, then extinguishing and relighting is insufficient, rather, one needs to extinguish, raise, place down, and relight the lamp!

The Rashb”a (22b s.v. chazinan) points out that according to the opinion of הנחה, placing, the gemara requires an act of placing after the lighting of the candles.  In other words, the opinion is not focusing on the candles being lit, rather that one needs to actively place the menorah in its place.  Why would the act of placing be the significant act that fulfills the mitzvah?

Rav Soloveitchik (Harerei Kedem, volume 1, 172:2) again brings us back to the menorah in the Beit HaMikdash and highlights the Rambam’s opinion (Biat Mikdash 9:7):

וכן הדלקת הנרות כשירה בזרים לפיכך אם הטיב הכהן את הנרות והוציאן לחוץ מותר לזר להדליקן.

“And similarly, the kindling of the lamps is permitted if performed by a non-priest., provided that a priest cleans the lamps and brings them outside, a non-priest is permitted to kindle them.”

According to the Rambam the mitzvah of the menorah in the Beit HaMikdash was fulfilled by placing the menorah in its proper place.  Therefore, a non-kohen could light the candles if the menorah was brought out to him and then kohen would place the menorah back in its proper place.

The opinion of הדלקה עושה מצוה could disagree as Rashi does (22b s.v. Ee Hadlaka) that for the menorah in the Beit HaMikdash the essence of the mitzvah is the lighting of the menorah.  This debate about Chanukah lights is not really a debate about Chanukah, but rather a debate about what the essence of the menorah in the Beit HaMikdash was.

Alternatively, Rav Soloveitchik explains, the opinion of הדלקה עושה מצוה could agree that in the Beit Hamikdash, the mitzvah for that menorah was to place it, but that the Chanukah menorah was not fully patterned after the menorah in the Beit HaMikdash. Instead, the rabbis required that the act of lighting be its primary fulfilment.

While the ideal fulfilment of Chanukah candles could include a remembrance of the menorah of the Beit HaMikdash, one does not need a menorah and can simply line up individual candles in a row.  Further, the number of lights kindled on Chanukah does not reflect the number of lights on the menorah in the Beit HaMikdash.

Maybe we can suggest that both הדלקה עושה מצוה and הנחה עושה מצוה believe that the entire mitzvah, both its main initial act and its continued illumination, publicizes the miracle.  How would this be so?

As we know, the Chanukah festival commemorates two miracles.  The first, as recorded in the על הניסים prayer, is that HaShem performed a תשועה גדולה, a great salvation, with the Jewish victory over Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Seleucid empire.  The second miracle as described in Shabbat 21b is that one flask of oil lasted for eight days instead of the expected one day.

The opinion that emphasizes the act of lighting believes that the main miracle we are commemorating is that the oil lasted for eight days. We light with faith as they lit with faith.  The continued shining light of the menorah testifies to the earlier lighting similar to the way a picture projects an original action.

In order to commemorate the victory, we highlight the act that demonstrated the Maccabees new, independent sovereignty; making the Beit HaMikdash function properly by first placing everything back in its place.  We put in place as they put in place.  The lit candles outside our homes demonstrate that that with HaShem’s help, everything was put back in order.

The gemara’s deciding that הדלקה עושה מצוה, continues in the pattern of the gemara of only quoting the miracle of the oil, with the miraculous victory remain behind the scenes.  We recall the victory through prayer in our hearts and minds and we publicly celebrate the oil miracle which overrode the laws of nature and where HaShem publically displayed his support of us.

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