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22 Kislev 5764 - December 17, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Mitzvah of Chanukah Lights: Points to Ponder

by HaRav Chaim Charlap

The gemora in Shabbos (21b) states: "The essential commandment of the Chanukah lights is to light one candle each night for each man and his entire household. And those who pursue mitzvos (mehadrin) have one light each night, for each and every one in the household. And for those who most fervently pursue mitzvos (mehadrin min hamehadrin), one should add a light for each member on each succeeding night."

Why Did The Shulchan Oruch Omit The Basic Mitzvah?

However, the Shulchan Oruch (Orach Chaim 671:2) mentions only the practice of mehadrin min hamehadrin -- adding a light for each member on each succeeding night -- and makes no mention of the basic halochoh that it is sufficient to light one candle each night. Why does the Shulchan Oruch omit the basic halochoh?

The question is even more problematic according to the Brisker Rov (Chidushei HaGriz, Hilchos Chanukah) who points out that the custom of lighting more than one candle per night is merely a stringency. The accepted rule is that for the beautification of a mitzvah one must only spend up to an additional third of the cost of the mitzvah itself (Bava Kama 9b). However, with regard to the mitzvah of Chanukah lights, we are asked to add much more than a third of the basic mitzvah. The basic mitzvah is one candle a night, whereas the suggested enhancements are to light numerous candles each night, amounting to many times the basic mitzvah. Why then does the Shulchan Oruch omit this fact?

One can explain the omission of the Shulchan Oruch with the Bais Halevi in Hilchos Chanukah who points out that although embellished mitzvah observance is in general required with any mitzvah whenever it is feasible, with regard to the mitzvah of Chanukah the sages uniquely prescribed multiple levels of enhancement for the mitzvah.

The Bais Halevi explains that the miracle commemorated by this mitzvah was itself occasioned by the desire to enhance mitzvah performance. Although the Jews found only a single undefiled flask of oil, they could have lit the Menorah for eight days by using very thin wicks -- one-eighth of the normal size -- which would require less oil. They chose, however, to enhance the mitzvah by using wicks of normal thickness. Therefore the sages offered multiple options of enhancement for the mitzvah of Chanukah not found in other mitzvos.

It would seem that it was for this reason that Klal Yisroel accepted as obligatory upon itself the enhancement of the mitzvah of Chanukah. HaRav Gifter zt"l, in a letter to Maran HaRav Shach zt"l (Pirkei Moed, Chanukah) adds that it seems that this hiddur was accepted as an obligation, similar to davening Ma'ariv.

Furthermore, Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Shulchan Oruch O.C. 671:1, Ein Hagilyon, Telmon Edition) points out that although the general rule is that one who lavishes money on mitzvos should not spend more than a fifth of his assets for this purpose, for the mitzvah of Chanukah one is required to sell even the clothes off of his back to perform the mitzvah. (See Magen Avrohom 657:7). Rabbi Akiva Eiger explains that the reason for this is in order to publicize the miracle of Chanukah.

Reciting Haneiros Halolu

The Shulchan Oruch (ibid. 676:4) states that after lighting the candles one recites Haneiros Halolu. The Mishnah Berurah (ibid. 8) quotes the Maharshal who maintains that he should begin reciting Haneiros Halolu after lighting the first candle, which is the essential mitzvah, and he should finish the kindling while still saying Haneiros Halolu.

The Pri Megodim questions the reasoning of the Maharshal. Since the brochoh applies to the extra candles as well, why should one talk unnecessarily before he finished lighting all the candles?

It seems that the Maharshal is of the opinion that reciting Haneiros Halolu is part of the mitzvah. Therefore, although one is not permitted to speak between the brochoh and the beginning of the mitzvah, one is permitted to speak after starting the mitzvah, if it is concerning the mitzvah. (See Mishnah Berurah 232:6).

Thirty-Six Words

The Mishnah Berurah (576:8) also quotes the Maharshal pointing out that in the verses of Haneiros Halolu there are thirty-six words, corresponding to the total number of Chanukah lights that one kindles during Chanukah -- not counting the two words Haneiros Halolu. It is as if one says, "These lights are thirty-six in number (referring in the first two words to the other 36)." The Maharshal follows the version of the Avudraham. Our version of Haneiros Halolu contains more than thirty-six words.

The Mishnah Berurah also quotes the Mogen Avrohom that in the two words of Haneiros Halolu there are eight letters, which are an allusion to the eight days of Chanukah.

Davening Minchah Before Lighting

The Mishnah Berurah (679:2) states that erev Shabbos, although one lights the menorah before nightfall, one should daven minchah before lighting the menorah. The Shaar Hatziyun (ibid. 7) quotes the Pri Megodim saying that the reason for this is that if one lights the menorah before davening minchah it seems like a contradiction. Since on erev Shabbos one must light the menorah before the proper time, which is nightfall, it seems as if we consider it already night (since it is after plag haminchah, and there is always the possibility of considering it night after that time). Therefore davening minchah after lighting the menorah seems contradictory. However, the Mishnah Berurah adds that if it is not possible to daven minchah before lighting the menorah, then one may do so afterwards.

The Shaar Hatziyun notes that this applies only if one lights the menorah long before sunset. However if one lights just before sunset (i.e. ten minutes, see Biyur Halacha 672), then he can lechatchila daven minchah afterwards. The reason for this is because just before sunset is also considered a time to light the menorah and one does not have to consider it to be night. (See Mishnah Berurah 263:16).

However, the Shaarei Teshuvoh gives another reason for davening minchah before lighting the menorah. Davening minchah corresponds to the evening Korbon Tomid. Lighting the menorah is in commemoration of a miracle in the menorah of the Beis Hamikdash which was lit after sacrificing the Korbon Tomid. For this reason one should daven minchah before lighting, even when lighting close to sunset.

When the First Day of Chanukah Falls on Shabbos

When the first day of Chanukah falls on a Shabbos, as it does this year, there is an extra reason to daven minchah before lighting the menorah. One who davens minchah after lighting the menorah on the first day of Chanukah raises a question of whether to say Al Hanisim when he davens minchah. Since he has already kindled the menorah and has thereby considered it Chanukah, it would seem proper to recite Al Hanisim. However, since minchah is part of the service of the previous day which is not yet Chanukah, he cannot recite Al Hanisim during minchah.

In practice the poskim agree that even if one davens minchah after lighting the menorah, he should not say Al Hanisim.

HaRav Chaim Charlap is rosh yeshivas Bais Zvul. This article is adapted from his sefer Ohr Chaim on yomim tovim.

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