Shiur #08: One Light for a Man and His Household

  • Rav Asher Weiss

Based on a shiur by Rav Asher Weiss

A.           Introduction*

The Gemara in Shabbat (21b) states:

Our Rabbis taught: “The mitzva of Chanuka [demands] one light for a man and his household; the mehaderin [kindle] a light for each member [of the household]; and the mehaderin min ha-mehaderin — Beit Shammai maintains: 'On the first day eight lights are kindled, and thereafter they are gradually reduced;' but Beit Hillel says: 'On the first day one is kindled, and thereafter they are progressively increased.'”

            The halakhic authorities disagree about how to understand the practice of the mehaderin (singular: mehadder), those who beautify the mitzva, and those who surpass even this level, mehaderin min ha-mehaderin.  The Rambam rules that the head of the house kindles lights according to the number of the people in his house:

How many lights are kindled on Chanuka?  The mitzva is that each house should have one light kindled, whether there are a lot of people or only one person living there.  If he is mehadder the mitzva, he kindles lights according to the number of people in the house, one light for each, men and women.  Someone who is mehadder even more so, performing the ideal mitzva, kindles a light for each person on the first night and keeps adding one light each night.  For example, if there are ten people in the house, on the first night he kindles ten lights; on the second night, he kindles twenty lights; on the third night, he kindles thirty lights; and so on, until the last night, when he lights eighty.  (Hilkhot Chanuka 4:1-2)

            As opposed to the Rambam, the Rema brings in his glosses the Ashkenazic custom, according to which each member of the household kindles his own light:

Some say that each member of the household lights, and this is the common custom.  They should be careful that each person puts his lights in a distinct place, so that it will be evident how many lights each person is kindling.  (Orach Chayyim 671:1)

            Let us try to understand why the Rema disagrees with the Rambam, the latter ruling that one person lights on behalf of all of the members of the household, and the former ruling that each person lights for himself.[1]

B.           The Griz's Understanding

The Griz understands that the disagreement between the Rambam and the Rema stems from a difference of opinion regarding hiddur mitzva (beautification and enhancement in the fulfillment of a commandment).  Let us take the case of mila, circumcision, in which we find two types of tzitzin (fringes of the corona): essential tzitzin, which invalidate the entire process if they are not removed; and nonessential tzitzin, the removal of which is considered hiddur mitzva.  The Gemara (Shabbat 133b) writes that as long as the mohel is engaged in the circumcision, he goes back even for the nonessential tzitzin.  Most Rishonim understand that this passage is dealing with a circumcision performed on Shabbat — for which there is a special dispensation, as normally it is forbidden to wound on Shabbat — and therefore it forbids going back for the nonessential tzitzin, once the mohel has stopped.  This is because hiddur mitzva – as opposed to the mitzva of mila itself – does not supersede Shabbat.  Once the mohel ceases to be involved in the circumcision, he has already completed the mitzva (though not in the most beautiful way).  If he goes back now for nonessential tzitzin, this is hiddur mitzva, which does not supersede Shabbat.

As opposed to these Rishonim, the Rambam (Hilkhot Mila 2:4) rules that as long as a mohel has not ceased to be involved in the circumcision, the mohel goes back for nonessential tzitzin; the Rambam gives no indication that this refers to a circumcision performed on Shabbat.  The Acharonim understand that according to the Rambam, even during the week, one does not go back for nonessential tzitzin.  This is because hiddur mitzva can only be performed together with the basic mitzvaOnce a person has completed the minimal obligation, he can no longer add the hiddur mitzva; therefore, there is no reason to go back for nonessential tzitzin.

The Griz explains that the Rambam in Hilkhot Chanuka is consistent with his position in Hilkhot Mila.  As we have seen, the basic mitzva consists of kindling a single light; kindling the additional lights is part of hiddur mitzva.  Since it is inconceivable for hiddur to exist untethered to the basic mitzva, it is pointless for a second person to fulfill hiddur mitzva by kindling additional lights after the first person has fulfilled the minimal obligation.

As opposed to the ruling of the Rambam, the Rema (Yoreh De'a 264:1) rules that the Talmudic passage is dealing with circumcision performed on Shabbat; however, during the week, one resumes the circumcision even for nonessential tzitzin.  It is clear from here that according to the Rema it is possible to add hiddur mitzva later.  Therefore, on Chanuka as well, each additional person in the house can kindle his or her own light, even though the basic mitzva has already been performed by the first lighter.

C.            Difficulties With the Position of the Griz

An objection may be raised against the Griz's understanding:

It would seem that the practice of the mehaderin and the mehaderin min ha-mehaderin on Chanuka cannot be compared to other cases of hiddur mitzva in the Gemara and in HalakhaStandard hiddur mitzva, which is derived from the verse, "This is my God, and I will beautify Him" (Shemot 15:2) is distinct from the basic mitzva.  In contrast, the practices of the mehaderin and the mehaderin min ha-mehaderin on Chanuka are different, because from the very outset the Sages instituted three different ways of fulfilling the mitzva of Chanuka, there being nothing comparable in other mitzvot.[2] These hiddurim are not mere customs, as they are subject to disagreements between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel and the Amora'im; rather, they are hiddurim within the basic mitzva.

Proof that there is a difference between the mehaderin of Chanuka and hiddur mitzva in other mitzvot may be adduced from the Magen Avraham (651, No. 28, and 676), who says that one may recite a blessing over the hiddurim of the Chanuka light, and even over the hiddur of adding another light each night (mehaderin min ha-mehaderin).  For example, if on the fifth night of Chanuka a person kindles a single light because that is all he has, and he recites a blessing over his lighting, and then later he acquires additional lights and wants to fulfill mehaderin min ha-mehaderin, the Magen Avraham says that he can light again with a blessing.  Nowhere else do we find a blessing recited over a hiddur mitzva.  A person who fulfills his obligation to take the four species on Sukkot with an etrog that is valid but not beautiful certainly does not recite another blessing if he later finds an etrog that is more attractive.  Even in the case of nonessential tzitzin, if the mohel has diverted his attention, he would not recite another blessing when he goes back to remove them.  It is only in the case of the hiddur regarding Chanuka lights, where the addition is part of the basic enactment, that there is room for a new blessing.

According to this, we can resolve another difficulty: in Hilkhot Chanuka 4:1, the Rambam cites three ways of lighting Chanuka lights.  The Shulchan Arukh, on the other hand, brings only the custom of the mehaderin min ha-mehaderin.  Why does the latter ignore the basic mitzva?  According to what has been said here, we may suggest that the hiddur in Chanuka lights is not just a regular hiddur mitzva; rather, the sages, from the very outset, enacted three different ways to fulfill the mitzva of Chanuka lights.  The Shulchan Arukh chooses to record only the most perfect manner, this being the manner in which the mitzva should be performed le-khatechilla, in the best case.

IV. "One Light for a Man and His Household"

            I wish to suggest another explanation of the disagreement between the Rambam and the Rema, which connects this difference of opinion to another disagreement between the Rambam and the Rema regarding the laws of Chanuka lights.[3]

We must first understand what the Talmud means when it says: “The mitzva of Chanuka [demands] one light for a man and his household (bayit)."  Is this an obligation on the house or on the person?  Let me explain: there is, for example, a binding mitzva for each Jewish home to have a mezuza on the door post, but the mitzva of Chanuka is certainly not that a light should be kindled in one's house.  Here, "bayit" refers to the members of one's household, one's family.  Is the mitzva regarding a Chanuka light like most mitzvot, that is to say, a mitzva that is cast upon each individual; or perhaps it is a mitzva that is cast upon the family as a whole, and not on each member of the family separately?  If the mitzva is cast upon each individual, then one person can light on behalf of the other members of the household, and they fulfill their obligation through a principle that is similar to agency.[4]  On the other hand, if the mitzva is cast upon the family as a whole, then it would be similar to the offering of a sacrifice by the kohanim (priests) of the beit av (patriarchal house).  The sacrifice of the entire beit av must be offered by the beit av, and if the sacrifice is not offered, the entire beit av has failed in its fulfillment of the mitzva.  However, if part of the beit av offers the sacrifice and partakes of it, the entire beit av has fulfilled the mitzvaClearly, one who offers the sacrifice does not fulfill the mitzva on behalf of the others; rather, he exempts them.  Since the mitzva does not fall upon the individual, but rather it is a collective responsibility, it suffices if one person offers and eats of the sacrifice, so that all will be exempt.

The way we understand the basic nature of the mitzva of kindling Chanuka lights has ramifications regarding how we understand the law of the mehaderin.  If the mitzva is cast upon the individual and one person discharges the obligation of the others, then the others must agree to fulfill their obligation through him; in the absence of such agreement, they have not fulfilled their obligation and they must light on their own with a blessing.  According to this understanding, the hiddur of "a light for each member of the household," echoes the Talmudic dictum, "It is better [to perform] a mitzva by oneself than through one's agent" (Kiddushin 41a).  Just as it is better for a person to fulfill his obligation through his own action rather than through that of his agent, there is a hiddur that a person kindles his Chanuka light himself, and not by way of another person.[5] This is the way most Acharonim understand the law of "a light for each member of the household" (Rabbi Akiva Eger, Responsa, Vol. II, No. 13).[6]

On the other hand, if the mitzva of kindling Chanuka lights is not an obligation falling upon the individual, but upon the household as a whole, the law of "a light for each member of the household" is totally unconnected to the idea that "it is better [to perform] a mitzva by oneself than through one's agent."  All the members of the household are exempted through the lighting of the first member, whether or not this is what they want.  A given member of the beit av cannot have the intention not to fulfill his obligation through the eating of another member, since the mitzva falls upon the beit av as a whole and not on each individual; so too in the case of Chanuka lights, if indeed the mitzva is cast on the household and not on each individual, intent would be irrelevant.  If this is the case, the hiddur of "a light for each member of the household" is not a qualitative enhancement, but rather its objective is merely to increase the number of lights.[7]

The Rambam opens the fourth chapter of Hilkhot Chanuka: "How many lights are kindled on Chanuka?  The mitzva is that each house should have one light kindled."  From here we clearly see that, according to the Rambam, the obligation to kindle Chanuka lights is an obligation falling upon the household, and not upon each individual.  Therefore, the hiddur is not qualitative – like "it is better [to perform] a mitzva by oneself than through one's agent" – and stems merely from the desire to kindle more lights.  According to the Rema, on the other hand, lighting Chanuka lights is an obligation falling upon the individual, and therefore, according to the mehaderin, each kindles his or her own light, the hiddur being that "it is better [to perform] a mitzva by oneself."

E.           Additional Ramifications

The Rema (Darkhei Moshe 277) cites the Maharil and the Terumat Ha-deshen, who hold that even though an akhsenai (lodger) whose wife lights for him at home is exempt from kindling Chanuka lights, he is permitted to light his own lights with a blessing, if he so desires.  They both explain this ruling based on the law of mehaderin, according to which each person kindles his own light.  The Maharil adds that since he lights on his own, his intention is not to fulfill his obligation through his wife's lighting, just as one who follows the practice of the mehaderin has in mind not to fulfill his obligation when the first light is kindled in the house.  We have learned that a person can have in mind not to fulfill his obligation through the first lighting in his house, and therefore the foundation of the law of mehaderin is that "it is better [to perform] a mitzva by oneself than through one's agent." The Beit Yosef has his reservations about the position of the Maharil and the Terumat Ha-deshen, but the Rema rules in accordance with them in Orach Chayyim.  According to what we have said above, the Rema is consistent with his own position that the mitzva of kindling Chanuka lights is an obligation falling upon the individual, and it is fitting that each person kindles his own lights in keeping with the rule that agency is inferior.

According to this, we can understand another point in the Rambam's position.  Tosafot (Shabbat 21b, s.v. Ve-hamehaderin) write that according to the practice of the mehaderin min ha-mehaderin, the head of the house lights according to the number of days that have passed.  Furthermore, according to Tosafot, there is no combining the two hiddurim, so that each person would add a light each night, because each hiddur cancels out the other.  The whole idea of mehaderin min ha-mehaderin is to emphasize that the miracle grows greater from day to day; were each person to add another light each night, a person who sees the lights would not know what day it is, because he does not know how many people live in the house.  The Rema disagrees with Tosafot.  He writes that we combine the two hiddurim, and that each person must light in a separate vessel and in a different place, so that it is clear what day of Chanuka it is.

The Rambam rules that according to the mehaderin min ha-mehaderin, the head of the household lights according to the number of people in the house and adds another light each night.  According to his view, that the head of the household kindles all the lights, it is clearly impossible to light for each person in a different place.  How then will the Rambam answer Tosafot's argument?  How will anyone know which night of Chanuka it is?  We are forced to conclude that according to the Rambam, it is not important that we know how many days have passed.  According to the Rambam, the goal of adding lights is not to publicize the fact that the miracle grows greater from day to day (as argued by the Levush), but only to increase the number of lights.  According to him, the foundation of all the hiddurim regarding Chanuka lights is increasing the number of lights, and so there is no reason to light separate vessels in different places.

Another ramification of this difference relates to a question brought by the Ritva and the Ran: why are the mehaderin min ha-mehaderin greater than the mehaderin, as both customs increase the number of lights?  According to the usual understanding, which we have associated with the Rema, this question does not arise: the two hiddurim are different in their very nature, for the mehaderin perform a general hiddur, similar to doing a mitzva oneself rather than by an agent, whereas mehaderin min ha-mehaderin fulfill a special hiddur connected to pirsumei nissa, publicizing the miracle, whereby it is emphasized that the miracle grows greater each day.  The Ritva and the Ran answer that the sum total of the lights lit by the mehaderin min ha-mehaderin is greater than the number lit by the mehaderin.  From here it is clear that they understand that the foundation of both hiddurim is merely to add lights, as we suggested above according to the Rambam.

Using the same principle, I have tried to explain two laws of Chanuka regarding which our practice follows the Rema, against the Rambam.  The Rambam and the Rema argue whether the mitzva of kindling Chanuka lights is an obligation falling upon the individual or upon the family, and based on this, they disagree about how to view the practices of the mehaderin and the mehaderin min ha-mehaderin.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 


*     Rav Weiss delivered this shiur in the Yeshiva on 12 Kislev 5762, and it was summarized by Yitzchak Bart.  The present version has not been reviewed by Rav Weiss.

[1]      The Rambam and the Rema might not disagree at all, and the difference between them might stem from the difference in the nature of their respective books.  The Rambam bases his Mishneh Torah on strict halakha rather than customary practice, whereas the Rema's work is based on the customs of Ashkenazic Jewry.  It might be, therefore, that even according to the Rambam, there is no problem for each person to light, and according to the Rema, it is possible that one person can kindle all the lights.  The essence of the mitzva is to increase the number of lights in accordance with the number of the people in the house, and it makes no difference who lights them, only that in Ashkenazic communities, as an expression of their love of the mitzva, it is customary for each person to kindle his or her own lights.

[2]      In general, it is difficult to fit the laws of Chanukka into the categories familiar to us from the rest of the Talmud.  Thus, for example the Gemara writes that an akhsenai (lodger) must give a peruta (small coin) to his host to participate in his lighting.  Why does he have to do this?  It is clear that the peruta is not given in order to acquire a share in the oil, for there is no law of ownership  ("lakhem") regarding the Chanukka lights, and even if a person lights with oil that is ownerless he fulfills his obligation!  Moreover, the law is that the payment of money does not acquire movable goods!  The Rema (CM 199:3) writes that the sages do not disqualify the acquisition of money in the case of mitzvot, but this is the opinion of a single authority that has no support anywhere else.  It seems then that the peruta here is an example of a Chanukka law that cannot be understood on the basis of general halakhic principles.  Just as the sages instituted "a light for a man and his household," so too they instituted that when an akhsenai gives his peruta, he is regarded as a member of the household.  This is not based on the laws of acquisition, but rather a special law of Chanukka.  This explains why a stranger or even a neighbor cannot join in by giving a peruta, for this is a special law applying exclusively to an akhsenai.

       [Rav Danny Wolf has suggested that the peruta might come to acquire a portion of the house, so that the akhsenai is regarded as an owner together with his hosts – Yitzchak Bart.]

[3]      [The basic distinction proposed in this section was mentioned by Rav Oded Mittelman at the Yeshiva's Chanukka celebration in 5761 – Yitzchak Bart.]

[4]      There is clearly no need for actual agency.  This follows from the special formulation, "a light for each man and his household," rather than "a person's agent is like himself," and from the fact that there is no need to appoint an agent for lighting Chanukka lights.

[5]      The Tosafot in Sukka (38b, s.v. Shama) write that even though "shome'a ke-oneh" – hearing is like saying – there is a special hiddur that each person should pray on his own.  The Shulchan Arukh Ha-rav (213) explains this on the basis of the rule that "it is better [to perform] a mitzva by oneself than through one's agent." Even though it is clear that shome'a ke-oneh is not based on agency, nevertheless, since it is similar to agency, the Shulchan Arukh ha-Rav invokes this principle.  Similarly, we invoke this principle with respect to Chanukka, even though it is clear that the rule of "a light for each man and his household" is not a case of true agency. 

[6]      The Mishna Berura (677, No. 12) writes that there is a hiddur when the akhsenai lights on his own, rather than rely on his wife lighting on his behalf at home, because of the rule that "it is better [to perform] a mitzva by oneself than through one's agent." Once again, it is clear that the man's wife is not acting as his agent, but rather that she discharges his obligation based on the rule of "ishto ke-gufo," "one's wife is like oneself" (Berakhot 24a).

[7]      The Gemara in Megilla 21a-24b asks "To what do the eighteen blessings [of the Amida, the silent, standing prayer] correspond?", "To what do the three blessings correspond?" and the like.  According to their plain sense, the first three blessings of the Amida have no connection to the three patriarchs or to the three segments of the Jewish people (though such a connection is found in Kabbalistic sources).  The correspondence here seems to be merely on the level of allusion or support, and it does not point to a real connection.  So too, our sages enacted to kindle lights corresponding to the bullocks offered on Sukkot (Shabbat 21b), even though there is no connection between Chanukka lights and the sacrifices brought on Sukkot.  Similarly, they enacted, according to this opinion, that lights be kindled in correspondence to the number of people in the house, even though there is no significance to that particular number.