Hiddur Mitzvah: Putting Your Best Foot (Light) Forward

Taste of Talmud and Halacha

How does one fulfill the Mitzvah of lighting the Menorah?  The basic Mitzvah is fulfilled by one person lighting one light in his home.  There is a more beautiful way to perform this Mitzvah:  Each person in the home lights a candle every night.   There is yet an even better way to fulfill the Mitzvah.  Those who wish to beautify the Mitzvah even more will add a candle every night of Chanukah (Shabbos 21b).     Some commentaries understand that the highest level is merely to have the head of household add one more light every night of Chanukah (Tosafos, ibid.).  Others assert that the highest level of performance of this Mitzvah is to have each person add one more light every night of Chanukah. The concept of beautifying a Mitzvah is called Hiddur Mitzvah, beautification of a Mitzvah.  The source for this aspect of a Mitzvah is derived from a verse in the song of Az Yashir.  After experiencing the Miracle of the splitting of the sea the Jews expressed their love and thanks to G-d in a beautiful song.  As an expression of their love to G-d they sang, “Zeh Keli V’Anveihu”, this is my G-d and I will beautify Him.  There is a saying, “Love knows no bounds”; serving G-d with love means looking for the most beautiful way in which to serve G-d.  After they safely crossed the sea the Jews said we recognize our G-d (Ze Keily) and we will perform His Mitzvos beautifully (V’Anveihu).  The Talmud in tractate Bava Kamma (9a) does put a limit to this expression of love.  The Talmud says, “Hiddur Mitzvah ad Shlish”.  You are only obligated to beautify a Mitzvah by adding one third to the value of a Mitzvah.  This being the case, we have to ask ourselves, “Why, when it comes to the Mitzvah of lighting the Menorah, do the Sages themselves recommend that we beautify the Mitzvah to such a high degree?

IY”H over the next two weeks I hope to offer three different reasons for this.  For now, here is another thought about Hiddur Mitzvah.

Taste of Parasha

When Yaakov comes to the City of Shechem he has reached a milestone in his life.  He grew up under the tutelage of his father Yitzchak.  He had the opportunity to gain from his grandfather Avraham.  He developed into the pillar of Torah in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever.  He proved his mettle in dealing with Eisav and Lavan.  He had fathered 11 of the tribes of Israel.  At this point he builds an Alter to give thanks to G-d in Heaven.  After the alter was built, Verse 33:18 says, “And HE called HIM Kel Alokey Yisroel.”  The question is who called whom or what Kel?  The word Kel is one of the names used to refer to G-d. It is also a word used as a synonym for the word mighty.  The Commentary of Unkelos translates the verse to mean that Yaakov called out and prayed to Kel the Mighty G-d of Israel.  The Talmud (Megillah 18a) says that there is a grammatical basis for a different reading of this verse.  According to the Talmud it was Yaakov who was called Kel, by, Elokey Yisroel, G-d.  What does this mean?  In what way was Yaakov, “Kel”?   The Alter of Slabodka, in his work Or Hatzafoon, writes that Yaakov had achieved such distinction at this point in his life that he was the perfect example of the Tzelem Elokim, the G-dly image which is in every human being.  He had achieved this through coming closer to G-d from all of his life experiences.  He had reached this plateau by acting as G-d would have liked in all situations. He had literally become like G-d, G-dly.   This, the Alter says is the highest form of  Ze Keili Veanveihu,  making the Ani (I) like Hu (HIM).

Have A Great Shabbos!!

About tasteofyeshiva

RABBI YAIR FRIEDMAN teaches at The Torah School of Greater Washington, and Yeshiva L' Baalei Batim. He is the owner and director of Camp Gevaldig LLC.
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