Chanuka: A Holiday of Renewing the Covenant (Part III)

  • Harav Mosheh Lichtenstein

V

 

            The Gemara in Shabbat (21b) says that the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles is “from sunset until people have left the market (lit., the foot has ceased from the market).” Based on this statement, the Rambam rules (Hilkhot Chanuka 4:5) that candles must only be lit at a time when lighting will publicize the miracle:

 

Chanuka candles must not be lit before sunset, but rather at sunset, neither later nor earlier. If one forgot or intentionally failed to light at sunset, one may light until people have left the market. How much time is this? About a half-hour or more. If this time passed, one must not light.

 

            The Tosafot (ad loc., s.v. de-i) state in the name of the Ri that in our time the candles are lit in order to be seen by the members of the household, and therefore they may be lit even after people have left the market. Many Rishonim agree with the Ri, and his position has been accepted as law.

            What emerges from both positions is that Chanuka candles are lit in order to publicize the miracle and that the period during which the candles may be lit is determined by the possibility of publicizing the miracle, whether for passersby in the public domain or for the members of one’s household. In other words, the Gemara’s assertion that in our time Chanuka candles may be placed on the table does not come to teach us that the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles can be fulfilled without publicizing the miracle, but rather that bedi’eved, when there is no other alternative, the minor publicizing of the miracle to the members of the household suffices. (Therefore the halakhic authorities deal with the issue of whether one who comes home very late can still light after people have left the market, if the rest of his household has already gone to sleep.)

            The Rashba (ad loc., s.v. ha de-amrinan [end]), however, disagrees and says that Chanuka candles may be lit all night, because the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles can be fulfilled even when there is no publicizing of the miracle whatsoever. He writes as follows:

 

That which is stated, “until people have left the market,” and we explain that if he has not yet lit, he lights – this does not mean to say that if he failed to light within this period of time, he may no longer light. For surely we have learned: “Any mitzva that is to be performed at night is fit all night.” Rather, [it means] that he did not perform the mitzva in the proper manner, for there is not that much publicizing of the miracle. Nevertheless, if he hasn’t yet lit, he lights, and he doesn’t lose out, but rather he is as one who performs a mitzva in a manner that is not entirely proper. And so writes my teacher, of blessed memory, in his laws.

 

            Now, the fact that the Rashba adduces proof regarding Chanuka candles from the mishna in Megilla (20b) dealing with other mitzvot that are performed at night, which teaches that such mitzvot can be performed all night long, proves that the allowance to light after people have left the market is based on the assumption that there exists an independent mitzva to light Chanuka candles that applies all night, and not on the fact that the candles are visible to the members of the household. Therefore, even when there is no publicizing of the miracle, after people have left the market, it is still possible to light all night long until dawn, and not only when the members of the household are awake.[1] This is also the Ra’avya’s position on the matter.[2]

            We see, then, that the Rashba and the Ra’avya clearly maintain that there is an independent mitzva to light Chanuka candles, even when there is no publicizing of the miracle. On the face of it, this is exceedingly difficult, for when there is no publicizing of the miracle, what is there?

            It seems that there is room for an independent mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles even when there is no publicizing of the miracle, and this is because of the covenant of Chanuka which finds expression in the lighting of candles. Just as the very institution of Chanuka as a festival is based on these two factors and involves two fulfillments, one as a festival that commemorates God’s miraculous rescue of the Jewish people, and one as a holiday that marks the renewed covenant, so too the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles – which is the primary mitzva of the day – includes both of these fulfillments. On the one hand, lighting a candle as a reminder of the miracle comes to mark and express the covenant each year – and in this sense it is similar to the paschal offering which includes an annual renewal of the covenant, as is proven from Pesach Sheni when there is an obligation to bring a sacrifice, even without serving as a reminder of the exodus from Egypt.[3] On the other hand, lighting Chanuka candles also publicizes the miracle performed for our forefathers by God in His great goodness and kindness. We see, then, that lighting Chanuka candles achieves two goals: a fulfillment of the duty to publicize the miracle, which lekhatchila demands lighting the candles next to the door to one’s house before people leave the market, and a fulfillment of the duty to light candles as a renewal of the covenant that was made between Israel and God, and for this there is no need for the candles to be lit in a place where they will be seen by the public at large.[4]

            We can now go return and re-examine the claim made earlier about the two enactments regarding Chanuka candles: the basic law of one light for a man and his household, and the added level of the zealous who light for each member of the household. I asked why Chazal instituted this twofold mitzva. It seems that if what I said above is correct – namely, that the basic law of “one light for a man and his household” is an obligation on the house, and the law of mehadrin comes to add an obligation on each person – there is room to say that the obligation on the house in the law of “one candle for a man and his household” is connected to the renewal of the covenant. This is similar to what we find in the covenant of Egypt, where the blood was placed on the doors of the houses and the sacrifice was regarded as “a lamb for the house of fathers” that was offered by the house.”[5] To this was added a personal obligation to publicize the miracle that applies to each and every individual. What emerges from this is that the basic mitzva relates to the renewal of the covenant, whereas the commemoration of the miracle relates to the added element and beautification of the mitzva, as we saw in the positions of the Rashba and the Ravya.

 

VI

 

            All this having being said, we can now explain the issue with which this essay opened – the law of lighting Chanuka candles next to the door. The candles are lit next to the door not necessarily because of the need to publicize the miracle, but because of the connection between the door and the covenant. We saw earlier that many authorities maintain that Chanuka candles must be lit next to the door even when lighting inside, and we raised the question: what does lighting at the door add when lighting inside? If we accept the claim that the obligation upon the house is connected to the renewal of the covenant that is symbolized in the Chanuka candles, and therefore the candles are lit next to the entranceway to the house, we can well understand why the candles must be lit next to the door even when they are not visible outside. This is the meaning of the assertion that the Chanuka candle must be lit on the left of the door, so that the mezuza will be on the right and the Chanuka candle on the left. For the connection between the mezuza and the Chanuka candle is that both are expressions of the covenant at the entrance to one’s house. The connection between the mezuza and the Chanuka candle is not incidental, but rather essential. We see, then, that lighting Chanuka candles next to the door is an essential element in the fulfillment of the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles by strict law, and not merely good advice as how to achieve greater publicizing of the miracle, or an artificial joining of the mitzvot of mezuza and Chanuka candles.

            Rashi and the Tosafot (Shabbat 21b, s.v. mitzva) disagree whether the proper place to light Chanuka candles is at the entrance to the courtyard or at the entrance to the house. Rashi writes as follows: “Outside – in order to publicize the miracle. And not in the public domain, but in his courtyard.” His words imply that the whole mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles is exclusively in order to publicize the miracle, and that a person lights at the entrance to his house and not at the entrance to the courtyard so that it be clearly evident that it was he who lit them (see 22a, s.v. mitzva lehanicha). In light of what was said above, however, we can adopt the position of Rashi that Chanuka candles must be lit at the door of a person’s house in his courtyard, but not for his reason, but rather because the Chanuka candles must be lit specifically at the door of a person’s house, and not merely in his courtyard. The baraita which states: “The mitzva of a Chanuka candle [demands that] a person set it at the door of his house on the outside,” should be understood in its plain sense. The fulfillment of the mitzva of Chanuka candles that is related to the renewal of the covenant is connected to the house, and therefore the baraita insists that the mitzva be performed at the door to the house. Just as there is a fulfillment of lighting Chanuka candles next to the door when lighting inside the house, which is connected to the renewal of the covenant, so too and for the same reason preference is to be given to lighting Chanuka candles at the door of one’s house when lighting outside, and not at the entrance to the courtyard, even if there would be more publicizing of the miracle at the entrance to the courtyard.

            Let us now go back to our original point of departure, and try to understand the disagreement among the Poskim regarding which candle is to be lit first. It would appear that they disagree about the very essence of the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles and about the reason for lighting within the handbreadth nearest the door. According to the Shulchan Arukh and the Maharik, the candles are lit exclusively in order to publicize the miracle, and therefore a person must begin with the candle that is added on that day, which best expresses the miracle, as the Shulchan Arukh himself writes: “It turns out then that he always recites the blessing over the additional candle that attests to the miracle, for with each additional day, the miracle increased.” And for this reason, the Bet Yosef (676, end) even adds that “no distinction should be made between where the candles are to the right of the entrance and where they are to the left of the entrance.” For according to him, the essential point is lighting the additional candle, and nearness to the door is irrelevant when determining which candle is lit first.

            The Vilna Gaon and the Terumat ha-Deshen, on the other hand, maintain that it is preferable to light first the candle nearest the door rather than the additional candle, because there is a mitzva to light in commemoration of the renewal of the covenant, and this is the primary fulfillment of “one light for a man and his house.” Preference should not be shown to the additional candle, despite the fact that it is the new candle that publicizes the miracle. For the essential mitzva is the obligation of the house relating to the covenant, and not the personal obligation of publicizing the miracle as expressed in mehadrin min ha-mehadrin. Thus, even the Vilna Gaon rules that it makes no difference whether the candles are lit to the right or to the left of the door; the candle closest to the door should always be lit first, regardless of which candle is the new candle added that day.

            If the above is correct, we must reexamine the Magen Avraham’s ruling (671:8), cited above, that it is preferable to light at a window that faces the public domain rather than next to the door inside the house. His ruling is undoubtedly correct according to the Shulchan Arukh and the Rema who maintain that publicizing the miracle is the exclusive indispensable element in the mitzva of Chanuka candles, and that lighting next to the door is merely the best way to perform the mitzva. But in light of what has been suggested here that lighting next to the door involves a fulfillment of the renewal of the covenant, there is room for further examination of the issue.

 

 

[1] It is true that his wording implies that there is publicizing of the miracle, just not “that much publicizing of the miracle,” as argued by the Tosafot. However, the reference to the mishna in Megilla clearly proves that we are dealing here with a law of lighting Chanuka candles independent of publicizing the miracle. For were this not the case, it would be impossible to prove anything from the fact that mitzvot that depend exclusively upon night can be performed all night long, with respect to a mitzva that depends on customary behavior and whose time is determined by the time that people are awake and out in the public domain.

[2]  See his rulings (sec. 843) and his responsum on the matter (sec. 972).

[3] See Pesachim 93a, where it emerges that not only do Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi and Rabbi Chanina understand Pesach Sheni as an independent obligation, but Scripture itself refers to it by a different name than that assigned to Pesach Rishon. The verse states: “But the man that is clean, and is not on a journey, and fails to keep the passover (Pesach), then that person shall be cut off from among his people, because he brought not the offering of the Lord in its appointed season.” The first Pesach is called “Pesach” because it serves as a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt, whereas the second Pesach is called “the offering of the Lord” because it involves a fulfillment of the covenant without commemorating the exodus from Egypt.

See also the fascinating remarks of the Meshekh Chokhma (Bamidbar 9:7), which includes the novel position that the paschal offering constitutes a fulfillment of the sacrifice that is brought by a proselyte, which exempts the proselyte from having to bring his sacrifice. This novel idea can only be understood if we see the paschal offering as a sacrifice reflecting the covenant, and not merely as a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt.

This idea touches upon other dimensions of the paschal offering, e.g., the disqualification of an uncircumcised person, and there is room also to distinguish between the fulfillment of offering the sacrifice and the fulfillment of eating it.

[4] I am aware of the fact that there is another way to understand lighting Chanuka candles where there is no publicizing of the miracle – based on the similarity to lighting the candles in the Temple, and that there are Rishonim who explain some of the laws of Chanuka based on this rationale. “Both approaches are the words of the living God.”

[5] The law of a lamb for a house – “the head of the house buys it for his entire household and does not need their consent” (Rashi, Pesachim 88a, s.v. se le-bayit) – is the clearest expression of this idea. The law of being counted for the paschal offering, and the law that the non-circumcision of a person’s children or slaves disqualifies him from eating of the paschal offering, are also based on the fact that the mitzva is cast on the house.