Lighting Chanuka Candles - A Halakhic Overview

  • Rav Doniel Schreiber

Lighting Chanukah Candles

A Halakhic Overview

by:  Rabbi Doniel Schreiber

I.  Mekor Chanukah

            The source for the holiday of Chanukah is not found in the Chumash, nor in Neviim or Ketubim; its origin, rather, is rooted in our mesorah.  The Talmud in Mesechet Shabbat 21b details the story of  Chanukah and the halakhic implications which followed in its wake.  Interestingly, Rambam, codifier of halakhot par excellence, not only relates the halakhot of Chanukah, but also retells an expanded version of the story of Chanukah.[1]  Noting Rambam's curious decision to include the Chanukah story in the Mishne Torah, the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt"l[2], explains that according to Rambam the mizvah of lighting Chanukah candles is to praise and thank G-d by publicizing the miracle of Chanukah.  Obviously, in order to properly praise Hashem, it is necessary that we be familiar with the details of the miracle of Chanukah.  Thus, retelling the story of Chanukah is part of the halakhot of lighting Chanukah candles itself, and certainly necessitates mention in the Mishne Torah[3].  Perhaps, for this reason, when we light the chanukiah we say the tefillah of "ha'nerot hallalu", which articulates that we are praising G-d for the miracle of Chanukah.

II. Mizvat Hadlakah

            What are the parameters of the obligation to light the chanukiah?  The Talmud in Mesechet Shabbat 21b states:

ת"ר מצות חנוכה נר איש וביתו, והמהדרין נר לכל אחד ואחד, והמהדרין מן המהדרין:  ב"ש אומרים יום ראשון מדליק שמונה, מכאן ואילך פוחת והולך; וב"ה אומרים יום ראשון מדליק אחת, מכאן ואילך מוסיף והולך".

According to the Gemara, there are three levels to the mizvah.  The primary takanah is that at least one candle should be lit in each home.  To perform the mizvah at a higher grade, mehadrin, there should be one candle lit per person in the home.  There is a Tannaitic dispute, however, as to how one can perform the mizvah in its most eminent form - mehadrin min ha'mehadrin.  According to Beit Shammai, one must light eight candles on the first night, and remove one candle each night thereafter.  According to Beit Hillel[4], one must light one candle the first night, and add one additional candle[5] every night until there are eight candles on the eighth night.[6]  Let us analyze these three levels individually.

III. Ner Ish U'Beito

1.  Chovat Ha'Gavra or Chovat Ha'Cheftza

            Generally, we find two categories of mizvot.  One type is an obligation which relates to the person, a chovat ha'gavra, and the obligation stems from, and directly devolves upon the person.  The mizvot of matzah, kiddush, tefillin, daled minim, and talmud torah are several examples of a chovat gavra.  The second type of mizvah is an obligation which relates to an object, a chovat ha'cheftza.  In this instance, the responsibility stems directly from the object, and the obligation which devolves upon the person is only a by-product of the object.  Some possible examples of this category of mizvah are nedarim, hafrashat trumot u'maaserot, and hafrashat challah.

 

         One of the most basic issues pertaining to the mizvah of lighting Chanukah candles is determining which of the above categories it belongs to.  Is it a chovat ha'gavra to publicize the miracle of Chanukah on one's doorstep, or is this obligation a chovat ha'cheftza which emanates from the structure of the house?  The implications of this question are numerous, and only some of them will be enumerated.  Firstly, if the cheftza does not exist, as in the case of a homeless person, then assuming the mizvah emanates from the cheftza, i.e. the house, then clearly a homeless person should be patur, as he has no house to generate his chiyuv.  On the other hand, if the mizvah stems from the person, a homeless individual is obligated in the mizvah.  How he can fulfill his obligation is another matter, and two possibilities exist: either he must light Chanukah candles even though he does not have a house[7], or he cannot light the Chanukah candles without a house, and remains unable to fulfill his responsibility[8].

 

            Another case which highlights these two possibilities is one who owns two homes.  If the mizvah stems from the house, then each house requires a lit chanukiah.  However, if the responsibility derives from the person, then he must light at only one house[9] to fulfill his obligation of publicizing the miracle from his doorstep.  Indeed, the Shibalei Ha'Leket[10] cites a Geonic debate with regard to this question.

 

 

            Finally, these two different approaches affect our understanding of the unusual requirement to light ner chanukah specifically on our front doorstep.  Why was the front window, for example, not chosen as the makom of ner chanukah?  If ner chanukah is a chovat ha'cheftza, i.e. a chovat ha'bayit, then it is possible to suggest that chazal specifically chose to place the ner chanukah at a spot which characterizes the bayit. Since the front doorstep is a high profile location, it is conceivable that it best personifies the bayit, and it is perhaps for this reason that chazal chose it for the site of the mizvah.  If ner chanukah, however, is a chovat ha'gavra, a different explanation for the locale of the mizvah is required. One of the gezerot of the Greeks was that all Jewish households must leave their front doors open to prevent any surreptitious avodat Hashem[11]. Thus, it is possible chazal determined that precisely the front doorstep, the site of the Greek legislation to prevent avodat Hashem, be the location of the pirsum ha'nes.

 

 

            The question as to which category of obligation the mizvah of lighting Chanukah candles belongs is complicated due to seemingly conflicting realities.  On the one hand, the fact that a guest, an achsnai, is obligated in ner chanukah[12] despite the fact that he is not in his own house, suggests that ner chanukah is a chovat ha'gavra.  Conversely, the halakha of "ner ish u'beito"[13], that when the ba'al ha'bayit lights, the rest of the household is patur from mizvat ner chanukah, implies that ner chanukah is a chovat ha'cheftza; the mizvah does not require that each person light, but rather that the house have a ner chanukah[14].

 

 

            Presumably, due to this inner tension in ner chanukah, the Bach[15] assumes a middle position, absorbing both extreme perceptions into his definition of the mizvah.  In his view, ner chanukah is both a chovat ha'cheftza, i.e. chovat ha'bayit, in which one's house must be made into a public spectacle, publicizing the miracle of Chanukah, and a chovat ha'gavra to make the miracle known to yourself.  Thus, the Bach rules that a traveler must be m'varech "she'asah nissim" (and "she'hechiyanu" the first night of Chanukah) on seeing someone else's ner chanukah, despite the fact that his family lit for him at home.  The reason is that his own family's lighting can only release him from his obligation to turn his house into a public spectacle of the miracle, but it cannot help him fulfill his personal obligation to make the miracle known to himself.

 

 

2.  Hanachah Oseh Mizvah or Hadlakah Oseh  Mizvah

 

            Another major issue at the basic level of ner ish u'beito is whether the definition of the mizvah is to place the ner (hanachah oseh mizvah), or to light the ner (hadlakah oseh mizvah).  The Talmud in Mesechet Shabbat 22b discusses both of these options[16], and concludes[17] that hadlakah oseh mizvah, and indeed this is how the Shulchan Arukh[18] rules.

 

 

            The issue of whether hanachah oseh mizvah or hadlakah oseh mizvah has various implications.  Some examples cited in the Gemara are:

           

1.  Is it permissible to light from one ner chanukah to another ner chanukah?  If hanachah oseh mizvah, then lighting from one ner to the other would be prohibited, as lighting is not a mizvah, and lighting from one ner chanukah to even another ner chanukah is a misuse of the ner chanukah - a bizuy mizvah.  On the other hand, if hadlakah oseh mizvah, then lighting from one ner chanukah to another is permitted, and there is no belittlement of the ner chanukah, since the very lighting is the mizvah.

           

2.  Is the formulation of the bracha "le'hadlik" or "le'haniach"?  The Gemara proves that the ruling is hadlakah oseh mizvah, since the nusach ha'bracha is "le'hadlik". 

           

3.  Does a ner lit by a cheiresh, shoteh, v'katan shelo he'giah l'chinuch fulfill the mizvah of ner chanukah for the household?  If hadlakah oseh mizvah, then this act does not fulfill the obligation of the household, since the actions of these individuals are not considered ma'aseh mizvot[19].  If, however, hanachah oseh mizvah, then another family member can fulfill the mizvah with it by taking the lit ner and placing it on the doorstep.

 

 

            Rishonim also cite various nafka minot.  The Rosh[20], for instance, explains that the issue of when one must put at least a half an hour's worth of oil into the ner is dependent on this question.  If hadlakah oseh mizvah, then oil must be added before the hadlakah, since otherwise the hadlakah is insignificant, as it will not last the proper amount of time.  If the ruling is, however, hanachah oseh mizvah, then one must add the oil only before the hanachah.

IV.  Mehadrin, U'Mehadrin Min Ha'Mehadrin

            The source for the general concept of hidur, i.e. beautification or glorification of mizvot is from the Talmud, Mesechet Shabbat 133a.  The Gemara cites the pasuk[21] "Zeh keli v'anvehu", and establishes that mizvot should appear beautiful to a person, she'yehei adam mit'naeh b'mizvot.  Thus, says the Gemara, everyone's sukkah, lulav, shofar, tzitzit, and sefer torah should be beautiful and appealing.  This is what we refer to as hidur mizvah.

 

 

            The question at hand, though, is whether the laws of mehadrin, and mehadrin min ha'mehadrin are really an outgrowth of the general principles of hidur mizvah, or a new category specific to ner chanukah, independent of hidur mizvah.  The Rambam[22] rules that one is obligated to "mehader et ha'mizvah", implying that mehadrin and mehadrin min ha'mehadrin are based on the general laws of hidur mizvah.  Rabbeinu Chananel[23] rules similarly:  "The interpretation of 'Mehadrin': Beautifying (mehadrei) mizvot, as stated in Bava Kama 9b, to beautify (l'hadurei) a mizvah until a third of (the expenditure of) the (principal) mizvah".  Yet, Rashi[24] apparently rules that mehadrin is unique to ner chanukah.  He explains that mehadrin means to "mehader acharei mizvot", to run after additional mizvot, which is similar to the Aramaic "hadran alach" or "le'hadurei batryhu".  Thus, there is a fundamental dispute whether mehadrin insists on glorifying ner chanukah just as one ought to glorify other mizvot, or if mehadrin connotes an entirely different concept unique to ner chanukah -  the pursuit of additional mizvot.

 

 

            What is at the crux of this dispute?  One possible approach is that this debate hinges upon the nature of the miracle we are commemorating.  Are we lighting nerot chanukah to publicize the miracle of the pach shemen, or our military victory over the Greeks?  If the reason for ner chanukah is to commemorate our victory, then perhaps, since our motive in waging war was to enable our observance of mizvot, chazal determined that part of the very mizvah of commemorating the victory should be the pursuit of additional mizvot, i.e. the din of mehadrin.  However, if we light nerot Chanukah to broadcast the miracle of the pach shemen, then there is no compelling reason to assume the mizvah of ner chanukah is different from any other mizvah, and one ought to beautify ner chanukah as one must any other mizvah.

 

            Yet, we cannot rule out the possibility of a middle position.  Perhaps mehadrin and mehadrin min ha'mehadrin are similar to hidur mizvah in that glorification of the mizvah is demanded, but not as an outgrowth of "zeh keli v'anvehu"; rather, chazal legislated a mizvah of glorification unique to Chanukah.  Indeed, this is the interpretation of Rav Velvel, R' Yitzchak Zev ha'Levi Soloveitchik zt"l[25].  He is convinced of his position due to two facts:  Firstly, there is no such concept of mehadrin min ha'mehadrin in all of halakha besides Chanukah; secondly, according to the Gemara[26], the general law of hidur mizvah is limited to an expenditure of no more that a third of the outlay for the principal mizvah, and yet the mehadrin and mehadrin min ha'mehadrin of Chanukah ignore this limitation[27].

 

 

            Why would chazal legislate a special mizvah of hidur for ner chanukah?  R' Yosef Dov ha'Levi Soloveitchik zt"l explains in his sefer Beis Ha'Levi al ha'Torah[28] that chazal instituted more hidurim in ner chanukah than exist in other mizvot because the miracle of the pach shemen was prompted by our desire to glorify the mizvah of lighting menorah in the Beit Ha'Mikdash.  We could have lit the menorah with wicks an eighth of their normal width to assure that the menorah remain lit for the eight days necessary to acquire more shemen zayit zach.  Nonetheless, in our zeal to light the menorah of the Mikdash in a superior manner, we employed wicks of normal length.  Thus, because the very miracle transpired as a result of hidur mizvah, chazal instituted an additional level of hidur - mehadrin min ha'mehadrin.  This reasoning, too, would justify a special category of hidur mizvah, as Rav Velvel understands, for ner chanukah.

 

 

            A further rationale for ner chanukah's special category of hidur can be found in Rav Yoel Sirkus' glosses on the Tur[29].  He explains that chazal instituted hidur in ner chanukah to counterbalance B'nei Yisrael's previous negligence in avodat ha'Mikdash in the time of the Greeks.  This explanation would also justify the legislation of a special category of hidur for ner chanukah.

 

 

            What emerges from the above discussion is a spectrum of definitions concerning mehadrin and mehadrin min ha'mehadrin.  On the one extreme, ner chanukah's "mehadrin" is, in reality, another term for zeh keli v'anvehu, i.e. the general concept of hidur mizvah.  On the opposite pole, mehadrin has nothing to do with the concept of glorifying mizvot, but rather, denotes ner chanukah's unique urge to pursue additional mizvot.  Finally, the middle position accepts both mehadrin's uniqueness to ner chanukah and its standard role of glorification. According to this definition, chazal instituted a unique dimension of hidur in ner chanukah, one unrelated to the general concept of zeh keli v'anvehu.

 

 

            These three approaches to the understanding of ner chanukah's law of mehadrin can be used to explain various debates in the laws of Chanukah.  For example, Rambam[30] and Shulchan Arukh[31] rule that mehadrin requires the head of the household to light all the nerot, whereas the custom of Sefard[32] and the ruling of the Rema[33] is that mehadrin requires each member of the household to light nerot chanukah.  Rav Velvel explains that while all agree mehadrin means hidur mizvah, they argue whether one can recite a bracha on hidur mizvah only when one also performs the principal mizvah, or even when one does not also perform the principal mizvah.  Rambam and Shulchan Arukh, who rule that mehadrin requires the head of the household to light all the nerot, are of the opinion that one can only recite a bracha on hidur mizvah when one also performs the principal mizvah.  In their view, only the head of the household lights all the nerot since his lighting includes the principal mizvah of one candle per household.  If, however, the rest of the household lit also, they could not recite a bracha on their act of lighting, in as much as they are not also performing the principal mizvah, but only the hidur mizvah.  On the other hand, Sefard and Rema are of the opinion that one recites the bracha on hidur mizvah even when one does not also perform the principal mizvah.  Thus, they rule that mehadrin requires each member of the household to light nerot chanukah even though they are not also performing the principal mizvah.  Rav Velvel's approach utilizes mehadrin's glorification motif in clarifying a fundamental dispute.

 

 

            In this vein, one might consider that the debate between Shulchan Arukh and Rema, as explained by Rav Velvel, hinges upon the issue of what type of hidur is ner chanukah.  If it is the universal hidur of "zeh keli v'anvehu", then just as in general  hidur  mizvah  does not  necessitate  an  independent bracha, one should similarly not make an exception for ner chanukah.  On the other hand, if mehadrin is a unique category of hidur indigenous to ner chanukah, then one can conceive reciting a distinct bracha on this hidur, even though the universal category of hidur would provide no similar justification.  Indeed, this is the explanation of the Sefat Emet[34].  This proposal employs the two possible definitions of mehadrin's glorification motif - zeh keli v'anvehu and glorification of ner chanukah - to justify the contrary rulings of Shulchan Arukh and Rema.

 

 

            The Rav zt"l[35] suggests a different approach to the above dispute.  According to the Rav, Shulchan Arukh and Rema agree that one cannot recite a bracha on hidur mizvah alone.  The debate hinges, rather, on whether mehadrin demands, as Rambam understands, that we beautify the mizvah of ner chanukah, or whether we must aspire to fulfill additional mizvot on Chanukah, in accordance with Rashi's position.  Shulchan Arukh, who rules that mehadrin requires the head of the household to light all the nerot, assumes that the definition of mehadrin is to beautify ner chanukah, in accordance with Rambam.  Since one cannot recite a bracha on hidur mizvah alone, it is impossible for anyone else besides the ba'al ha'bayit to light the mehadrin with a bracha.  If anyone else were to attempt to glorify the principal mizvah by lighting the mehadrin, they would only be performing hidur mizvah and would be unable to recite a bracha.

 

            Rema, on the other hand, who rules that mehadrin requires each member of the household to light nerot Chanukah, defines mehadrin as the pursuit of more mizvot.  To accomplish Rema's mehadrin, explains the Rav, the household must intend, during the ba'al ha'bayit's hadlakah, to not fulfill their primary obligation of ner chanukah.  This course of action will create a situation where the rest of the household must pursue more mizvot as they are still obligated to fulfill their primary obligation of ner chanukah[36].  Each of them can fulfill this obligation, in the framework of mehadrin, by lighting their own ner chanukah with a bracha.  This approach invokes disparate descriptions of mehadrin - glorification as opposed to pursuit of mizvot[37] - to define the nature of Shulchan Arukh and Rema's dispute.  The definition of mehadrin, then, has a central role in ner chanukah - a role upon which a variety of hilkhot chanukah hinge.

 

 

 

            May the merit of our learning hilkhot chanukah re-establish the lighting of the menorah in the Beit Ha'Mikdash, quickly in our times!

 

 

[1].   Hilkhot Chanukah 3/1-2.

[2].   "Mesorah" Torah Journal, No. 4, Kislev 5751, p. 5.

[3].    See ibid. that Rambam did not also relate the story of Purim in his Mishne Torah since the story is already written in Torah She'bektav i.e. Megillat Esther, and the Mishne Torah was meant to be learnt together with Torah She'bektav.

[4].    The normative ruling is according to Beit Hillel, (Orach Chaim 671/2).

[5].    There are two interpretations of mehadrin min ha'mehadrin in Rishonim, and one of the interpretations subdivides into two.  The first approach is that only the ba'al ha'bayit lights:  Tosefot (Shabbat 21b beginning ve'ha'mehadrin min ha'mehadrin) rule that he lights only one chanukiah in order that the pirsumei nisa be recognizable; Rambam (Chanukah 4/1) rules that he lights each ner ke'neged b'nei beito.  The second approach is that each family member lights (Minhag Sefard, cited in Rambam, Chanukah 4/3).  Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 671/2) rules in accordance with Tosefot, whereas the Rema (ibid.) rules like the Minhag Sefard.

[6].    The Gemara Shabbat 21b cites two Amoraic explanations of this dispute.  One explanation is that Beit Shammai considers the yamim ha'nichnasin, or the amount of days left in Chanukah, whereas Beit Hillel considers the yamim ha'yotzin, or the number of the day in Chanukah.  The second explanation is that Beit Shammai lights k'neged parei ha'chag which diminished in number every day of Sukkot, whereas Beit Hillel lights with consideration to ma'alin ba'kodesh v'ein moridin.  These explanations do not seem to sufficiently explain the machloket between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel.  The Rav zt"l  ("Mesorah" Torah Journal, No. 4, Kislev 5751, p. 3) clarifies the Gemara as follows:  According to the first Amora, Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel dispute whether one ought to consider the extent of the salvation from distress or the magnitude of the miracle.  According to Beit Shammai, the distress of not having enough oil lessened every day, whereas according to Beit Hillel, the miracle took on greater proportion with each passing day.  With regard to the second Amora, the Rav zt"l explains that Beit Shammai used parei ha'chag to prove that ma'alin ba'kodesh v'ein moridin refers only to a cheftza and not to a minyan, i.e. an amount.

[7].    This is the ruling of Arukh Ha'Shulchan (Orach Chaim 677/5).

[8].    See Tosefot Sukkah 46a (beginning Ha'roeh) who write that with regard to mizvat mezuzah and ner chanukah one who does not have a house, "ein b'yadam l'kayeim ha'mizvah".  This implies that the individual is obligated, yet unable to fulfill the mizvah.  However, see the Ran (on the Rif, Shabbat 23b, beginning Amar Rav Sheshet) and Kol Bo (Chanukah siman 44) who distinguish between the two mizvot.  They are of the opinion that mezuzah is a chovat ha'cheftza, and thus if one does not have a house he is patur, as opposed to ner chanukah which is a chovat ha'gavra, and even a guest is obligated in the mizvah.  Their proof that the two mizvot are different is that one is obligated to put a mezuzah on each doorway, as opposed to ner chanukah where the mizvah is to light merely at your front door step.  The Rambam (Chanukah 4/1), however, formulates the mizvah as follows:  "The mizvah of ner chanukah is that kol bayit v'bayit (every house) should light one ner...".  This implies that ner chanukah is a chovat ha'cheftza.

[9].    One might argue that just as one must light at both entrances to his courtyard because of ma'arit ayin (Orach Chaim 671/8) similarly an owner of two homes must light at both residences due to ma'arit ayin.  Even if this were true, a bracha would only be recited at the current residence since it is only there that he is truly obligated in ner chanukah.  Moreover, the very application of ma'arit ayin to an owner of multiple residences is questionable since it is clear to the neighbors and passersby when a home is uninhabited.

[10].  Beginning of the Laws of Chanukah.

[11].  Rambam's Iggeret Ha'Shemad or Ma'amar Kiddush Hashem, p. 43, Rabinowitz Edition, Mossad Ha'Rav Kook.  See also Midrash Ma'aseh Chanukah, first printed in Otzar Tov, vol. 1.

[12].  Shabbat 23a.

[13].  Shabbat 21b.

[14].  See, however, the Netziv, She'iltot D'Rav Achai Gaon, She'ilta 54, Ha'Amek She'eila, ot 4, who explains that this Halakha is comparable to kiddush Shabbat morning where the mizvah is a chovat gavra to drink the wine, and the ba'al ha'bayit is nonetheless motzi the household when he drinks the wine for them even though no one else has drunk from the wine.  Rav Chaim Brisker dissents, and requires everyone to actually drink the wine on Shabbat morning.

[15].  Tur Orach Chaim, end of siman 676, beginning U'Mah'Shekatav Ein Madlikin.

[16].  This dispute may be viewed in a variety of ways, highlighted by three versions of the definition of hanachah oseh mizvah:  1. Set it down, then light it (Gemara Shabbat 23a and Tosefot ibid.); 2. Light it, then place it down (Ramban on Gemara Shabbat 22b, beginning l'man d'amar hanachah oseh mizvah, and rov rishonim); 3. Set down a pre-existing ner (Or Zaruah, Chanukah 324).  One possibility is that it is a polarized debate with one side contending the mizvah is just the hadlakah, and the other side contending the mizvah is just the hanachah.  This seems to work well with the Or Zaruah's version of hanachah oseh mizvah.  It also works well with the Ramban's and rov rishonim's version, since they hold that the hadlakah is only necessary to remove the possibility of people thinking that you put down the ner for you own use.  However, while hanachah certainly has precedent in Halakha min ha'Torah, as in hanachat mezuzah and hanachat tefillin, it is difficult to understand why hanachah should be the mizvah on Chanukah when the miracle was in the hadlakah.

               

           Perhaps hanachah oseh mizvah can be better understood by analyzing the relationship between the hadlakah/hanachah with pirsumei nisa.  The following are two viable approaches:  1. Pirsumei nisa is not the mizvah, but it is needed rather to define the hadlakah/hanachah as a mizvah, and hadlakah/hanachah are both the maaseh mizvah and kiyum ha'mizvah; or 2. Hadlakah/hanachah are not the mizvah, but are needed rather to create a ner which is distinctly for Chanukah, a ner chanukah, enabling the mizvah of pirsumei nisa to transpire.

           If the mizvah is solely pirsumei nisa, then one of two options becomes available.  Either pirsumei nisa is just a kiyum ha'mizvah which demands a result - the establishment of a situation of pirsumei nisa; or it is a ma'aseh mizvah which requires an act of pirsumei nisa.  In either case, hanachah oseh mizvah is eminently sensible, as placing the ner down essentially creates a situation of pirsumei nisa and is at the same time an act of pirsumei nisa.  Lighting the ner, on the other hand, is basically an act of zecher l'nes, a reenactment of the miracle.  If so, it would seem that hadlakah oseh mizvah assumes that the hadlakah, zecher l'nes, is the actual mizvah.  In this view, pirsumei nisa would only be required to establish a proper zecher l'nes.

               

            A different approach in the debate of hadlakah or hanachah oseh mizvah is that the dispute is not polarized, and hanachah oseh mizvah recognizes at some level the significance of hadlakah oseh mizvah in ner chanukah.  Accordingly, hanachah oseh mizvah assumes that primarily hanachah is the mizvah, and while the hadlakah is part of the mizvah, it is only secondary.  This seems to be Rashi's position (Shabbat 22b, beginning V'ei hanachah oseh mizvah):   "V'Ikar mizvatah taliah be'hanachah".  It also works well with the Gemara's and Tosefot's version of hanachah oseh mizvah, that one first sets the ner down, and then lights it.  We see this idea, moreover, in the Ran's position that according to hanachah oseh mizvah the bracha is le'hadlik u'le'haniach.

 

            According to this approach, perhaps both opinions agree that the nature of the mizvah is zecher l'nes, not pirsumei nisa, and the whole debate is whether this obligation is a chovat ha'gavra or chovat ha'cheftza.  Hadlakah oseh mizvah assumes that zecher l'nes is a chovat ha'gavra, whereas hanachah oseh mizvah assumes that zecher l'nes is a chovat ha'cheftza.  The result of this explanation is that hadlakah oseh mizvah is a ma'aseh mizvah, whereas hanachah oseh mizvah is a kiyum ha'mizvah, interested in results - having zecher l'nes on your house.

[17].    Shabbat 23a.

[18].    Orach Chaim 675/1.

[19].    Rosh Hashanah 28a.

[20].    Shabbat  2/7.

[21].    Shemot 15/2.

[22].    Chanukah 4/1.

[23].    Shabbat 21b.

[24].    Shabbat 21b, beginning Ve'Hamehadrin.

[25].    See Griz al ha'Rambam, Laws of Chanukah 4/3.

[26].    Bava Kama 9a.

[27].    For example, one who fulfills mehadrin min ha'mehadrin on the second day of Chanukah has already expended twice the value of the principal mizvah.

[28].    Beis Ha'Levi al ha'Torah, page 29.

[29].     See the Bach, Orach Chaim, siman 670.

[30].     Laws of Chanukah, 4/1.

[31].     Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim, 671/1-2.

[32].     Cited by Rambam ibid, 4/3.

[33].     Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim ibid.

[34].     Shabbat 21b.  Moreover, this approach might explain why the Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim, Siman 676) rules that in mehadrin min ha'mehadrin one should light from left to right, whereas the Gra (ibid, beginning Va'yevarech al ha'nosaf) rules that one should light from right to left.  If one understands that ner chanukah has a unique din of hidur, it is possible that this hidur is m'guf ha'mizvah, part of the very mizvah.  This would justify the position which subscribes to lighting the new candle - the left candle - first, since it too is m'guf ha'mizvah.  However, if only the universal din of hidur is applicable to ner chanukah, then one could not reach the conclusion of the Beit Yosef, since it is unacceptable that one light the ner of hidur before one lights the ner that is m'guf ha'mizvah - the ner on the farthest right.

[35].      "Mesorah" Torah Journal, No. 4, Kislev 5751, p. 9, "B'minyan Ha'mizvot".

[36].       Of course, this assumes that ner chanukah is a chovat ha'gavra, for if it were a chovat ha'cheftza (a chovat ha'bayit), the ba'al ha'bayit's hadlakah would, in any scenario, discharge the primary obligation emanating from the house.  Indeed, perhaps Shulchan Arukh considers ner chanuka a chovat ha'cheftza, and thus could not identify with the Rema's position.

[37].      One must consider how this debate influences our understanding of mehadrin min ha'mehadrin; is it a din of universal hidur beyond mehadrin, or is it a special din of hidur in ner chanukah, over and above the din of mehadrin, or is it some other combination?