Chanukah: Commemoration or Perpetuation
Taste of Talmud and Halacha
Where can you find the laws of Chanukah discussed in the Talmud? In Tractate Shabbos 21a-24a. Why Tractate Shabbos? The discussion begins with a comparison of the types of wicks that may be used for Shabbos versus the ones that may be used for Chanukah. There are three opinions with respect to the wicks of Chanukah. 1) Rav Huna is of the opinion that you must use the same type of wicks that you use for your Shabbos lights, which is to say that they must be top quality wicks that are able to burn well without any intervention on your part, as it is forbidden on Shabbos to adjust or rekindle the flames. 2) Rav Chisda is of the opinion that you may use grade B wicks for the Chanukah lights that are lit during the week but top quality wicks must be used for the Chanukah lights kindled before Shabbos Chanuka. 3) Rav Zaira is of the opinion that you may use grade B wicks for lighting your Menorah both during the week and on Erev Shabbos Chanukah. The Talmud grapples with the challenge as to how to explain the logic and reasoning behind this dispute and the resulting differences in opinion. Below we will explore how Rava and The Bais Efraim explain the root of this dispute. Rava understands that this dispute stems from the issue of whether or not there is an obligation to rekindle the flames of the Menorah if they are accidentally extinguished. The Rishonim grapple with the challenge as to how Rava saw this as the core of the difference in opinions. Rashi elaborates on the reasoning of each of the above mentioned opinions. Regarding Rav Huna’s reasoning he explains: Rav Huna is of the opinion that it is necessary to rekindle a flame that becomes accidentally extinguished, therefore if you were to use grade B wicks for all of Chanukah you may be negligent and not rekindle them if they become extinguished. Rav Chisda’s opinion is that it is not necessary to rekindle an extinguished flame and that you may derive pleasure from the lights of Chanukah, therefore he prohibits the use of grade B wicks only on Shabbos lest you come to adjust the flame to derive pleasure, and in doing so thereby violate the laws of Shabbos. R’ Zaira, on the other hand, is of the opinion that there is no reason to rekindle an extinguished flame, and that it is not permissible to have pleasure from the Chanukah lights, therefore there is no reason to prohibit using grade B wicks throughout all of Chanukah. The Bais Efraim explains the logic behind the basis for the dispute between these sages as stemming from the issue of pirsumei nissah (to publicize the miracle of Chanukah. He explains that Rav Huna understands that the obligation of pirsumei nissah is not fulfilled by merely lighting the Chanukah lights, but rather by allowing them to burn for at least a half hour after sunset. This is why he says that you are obligated to rekindle them if they go out. Rav Chisda and Rav Zaira are of the opinion that pirsumei nissah is fulfilled upon lighting the candles, which is consistent with their opinion that it is not necessary to rekindle an extinguished flame. Practical Halacha follows the majority opinion, that the obligation of pirsumei nissah is in fact fulfilled at the moment of the kindling. Therefore, in practice, it would not be necessary to rekindle the Chanukah lights if they accidentally become extinguished.
Taste of Chanukah
The holiday of Chanukah was instituted by our sages to commemorate a series of events that led to the rededication of the Holy Bais Hamikdash. There are many days upon which miracles occurred that the sages did not institute a holiday to commemorate those events. What was it about these events and the subsequent rededication of theTemple that is so important to the conscience, the heart, and soul of the Jewish nation that requires a yearly “Festival of Lights?”
Surprisingly, the Shulchan Aruch says that on Chanukah it is not necessary to have a holiday meal. What! am I hearing right? A Jewish Holiday without an obligation to eat matzo balls and kugel? Is this Jewish!? OK, OK, so the Shulchan Aruch does allow for the fact that there is a slight Mitzvah in eating a dinner in order to make note of the fact that the Temple was rededicated. This, however, is not the essence of Chanukah. The essence of Chanukah, he tells us, is to sing songs of thanks to G-d and to praise G-d for the fact that it was on these days that we were once again able to observe the commandments of the Torah. The Greeks and their Hellenist corroborators tried to undermine the Jewish nation not by cutting our throats but by pulling the Torah and Mitzvos out from under us. They loved the beauty and grandeur of the Temple, the wisdom and sophistication of the Jewish mind. Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg Zt”l described the actions of the Hellenists succinctly when he said, “The Hellenists adapted very well to the Greek culture, they adapted so well in fact that they adapted themselves out of existence”. The balance and symmetry of the body was displayed in the most remarkable ways in their gymnasiums and coliseums. All the blessings of the physical world were hijacked from their G-dly intended purpose to a debased and immoral culture that promoted the body to the exclusion of G-d. They were brash and brazen. The Greek culture was insidiously undermining the underpinnings of the Jewish nation by promoting that people could keep all of the external aspects of Judaism, as long as they, “Write on the horn of your cows that you have no portion in the G-d of Israel”. They made decrees that defiled the holy and deep inner world of the Jewish soul. They prohibited the use of the mikvah and defiled the Holy Temple so that although we technically still had theTemple in our land, and we still had Jewish families they could not function. All of the abundance that we had was not able to be used in the service of G-d.
All of this changed when a few devoted and pure Kohanim from the family of the Chashmonaim, descendants of Mattityahu the Kohen Gadol, made a stand. They began to counter the efforts of the Greeks and through their selfless acts, with the help of G-d, were able to turn everything around. They brought back purity and holiness to the Jewish nation and rekindled our souls.
So, Chanukah is not merely a commemoration of a miracle but rather an integral update in our spirituality which facilitates the success of the destiny of the Jewish people. The Chashmonaim taught us how to hold our ground against the onslaught of a culture steeped in the physical veneer of this world. We learn from them to see beneath the surface and to be in tune with the G-dly essence, the inner light of this world. The Holiday of Chanukah is essentially the Holiday that gives us, the Jewish nation, the tools we need for our perpetuation. It is only through the commemoration of these events that we will be able to achieve the manifestation of our nation. Only by internalizing the lessons of the Chashmonaim will we be able to move beyond matzo balls and kugel and connect to the light that is within us, the light of our neshama, and the light of the Torah.