SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, December 8, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Today we will continue our discussion of the famous theory proposed by the Beit Yosef (O.C. 670) regarding the kindling of the menorah with the lone jug of pure oil discovered after the Chashmonaim’s triumph over the Greeks.  This theory suggests that the Chashmonaim filled the oil lamps of the menorah each night with just one-eighth the normal amount, realizing that it would take eight days to receive a fresh supply of oil.  Miraculously, each of these portions sustained the candles throughout the night.  Later writers noted that this would appear to violate the fundamental rule of “ein somekhin al ha-neis,” that we are not to anticipate miracles.  The Chashmonaim should have, seemingly, used the entire supply of oil the first night to properly fulfill the mitzva, rather than use an amount of oil that would suffice for the mitzva only through a miracle.
            Rav Asher Weiss, in his lengthy treatment of this subject, suggests that according to the Beit Yosef, there is not actually a minimum quantity of oil that is required to fulfill the obligation to kindle the menorah.  The Torah commands lighting the menorah “from evening till morning” (Shemot 27:21), establishing that the menorah is to burn through the night.  The requirement introduced here is a duration of time, not a quantity of oil.  Quite possibly, Rav Weiss suggests, although the Torah’s command is to have the lights of the menorah burn from evening until morning, a mitzva is fulfilled each moment the candles burn.  Nighttime is the period when the mitzva is to be fulfilled, and the mitzva is fulfilled at every moment during this period.  If so, Rav Weiss explains, then the Chashmonaim faced the decision of whether to fulfill the mitzva for part of the night for eight nights, or throughout the night the first night, and then not at all the seven subsequent nights.  Rav Weiss reasoned that from a strictly halakhically standpoint, there does not appear to be any compelling reason to choose one option over the other.  The Chashmonaim made the choice (according to the theory proposed by the Beit Yosef) to have the menorah burn for one-eighth a night each night, which was one of the two acceptable options which they had.  In the end, of course, God intervened to miraculously ensure that the mitzva was fully observed all eight nights.
            Rav Weiss suggests drawing proof to his contention from the Gemara’s ruling in Masekhet Zevachim (88a) concerning hallowed items used in the Beit Ha-mikdash.  Certain items (such as mincha offerings) become formally consecrated for ritual use only once they are placed in the appropriate keli shareit – the special utensil in which they are to be contained before being offered.  These items need to be placed in the utensil to be consecrated before they are used for their ritual purpose.  One of the conditions for this process to be effective, the Gemara states, is that the utensil must be totally filled (“melei’in”).  Rashi explains this to mean that the complete required amount of the item in question must be placed together in the keli shareit.  However, according to the Beit Yosef, the oil used for the kindling of the menorah at the time of the Chanukah miracle was divided into eight portions – each of which was much smaller than the minimum required amount.  One might wonder, then, how this oil became consecrated for use in the menorah, if it was not placed in a complete quantity in a keli shareit.  Evidently, Rav Weiss explains, there is no actual minimum amount of oil required to fulfill the mitzva of kindling the menorah.  The requirement is for the menorah to burn from evening until morning, not to light the menorah with an amount of oil that can sustain the candles from evening until morning.  As such, there was no requirement to consecrate the full amount of oil in a keli shareit.  This perhaps proves the point that the mitzva of kindling the menorah relates to time, not to a quantity of oil, and on this basis, we might explain the Beit Yosef’s theory that the Chashmonaim from the outset divided the oil into eight small portions.