Thursday, December 14, 2017

chanukah without a menorah?

You would think that if the whole celebration of Chanukah is about the Chashmonaim being able to light the menorah in the beis hamikdash, then the way we should celebrate is by lighting a menorah in our homes.  Yet that is not the halacha.  "Ner ish u'beiso" is the mitzvah -- just one candle per night per house.  Not only that, but the achronim discuss whether or not you even need to use a menorah to hold however many candles you light -- maybe you can even just stick your candles in the windowsill or doorway all by themselves, with no kli to hold them, and light that way.  One light, no menorah -- how is this at all like what the Chashmonaim did?

Can I be yotzei writing about the parsha by quoting a Rogatchover in Tzofnas Pa'aneiach?  : )  The Rambam writes in Hil Temidim u'Musafim 10:13:

נר מערבי שכבה אין מדליקין אותו אחר דשונו אלא ממזבח אבל שאר הנרות כל נר שכבה מהן מדליקו מנר חבירו:

In case you missed the Rambam's point, the Raavad makes note:

 א"א נראה מדבריו שהוא עכוב לנר מערבי שלא להדליקו אלא ממזבח העולה

The Rambam tells us that the ner ma'aravi, unlike all the other lamps in the menorah, must -- an absolute requirement -- be lit only using the fire of the mizbeyach.

Read the Rambam in Hil Chanukah 3:2 carefully and you will see that he doesn't say that when the Chashmonaim found an untainted jug of oil they lit the menorah.  What he says is that they lit "neiros ha'ma'aracha," they lit the fire on the mizbeyach.   The Rogatchover writes that Rambam stresses this point because the Chashmonaim did not actually light the whole menorah -- what they lit for 8 days was only that single ner ma'aravi, which must be kindled with mizbeyach fire.

But what about the din (Menachos 28) that the 7 neiros of the menorah are me'akeiv each other, i.e. you need to light them all to be yotzei lighting the menorah?

Apparently the Rogatchover understood (see his Shu"t #251 and see R Wahrman's Sheiris Yosef vol 1 #24 who develops this theme) that there are 2 dinim in play here: 1) a mitzvah of hadlakah, which can be fulfilled even by lighting the single ner ma'aravi from the mizbeyach; 2) a mitzvah for the cheftza of the menorah to be lit, which is accomplished when all the candles that are part of the menorah are kindled (the choice of Brisker language here is mine and is inexact.) 

Rav Wahrman brings a brilliant proof to the Rogatchover's idea.  The gemara debates whether it is permissible to use one Chanukah candle to light another one -- madlikin m'ner l'ner.  One proof the gemara tries to bring is from the fact that the lamps of the menorah were lit from the ner ma'aravi.  At first glance the analogy from menorah to Chanukah candles makes no sense.  Once one lights one Chanukah light, the essential mitzvah has been done -- lighting additional lights is a secondary hidur.  However, until all the branches of the menorah have been lit, the essential mitzvah of lighting menorah is incomplete.  How are these two cases comparable?  

It must be that lighting the ner ma'aravi is a complete kiyum in and of itself, even if the rest of the menorah lights are not lit.

Based on this idea we can answer the question of the Tos Yeshanim (Yoma 24b).  The gemara says that the hadlakah of the menorah in the mikdash can be done even by a zar.  Tos Yeshanim asks: so why then does Parshas Beha'alosecha, which opens with the mitzvah of lighting the menorah, address itself specifically to Aharon?  According to the Rambam, the answer is simple: Parshas Beha'aloscha is speaking about the ner ma'aravi ("el mul pnei ha'menorah...") which must be lit from the mizbeyach, which only a kohen has access to; the gemara is speaking about the second din of lighting the menorah as a whole. 

Coming back to our original questions, R' Wahrman quotes his rebbe, R' Leizer Silver, who explained based on this Rogatchover that Chanukah commemorates lighting the single ner ma'aravi, and therefore, Chazal instituted that the base mitzvah consist of ner ish u'beiso, one simple candle.  Lighting the whole menorah is a hidur, a secondary kiyum -- even using a menorah is secondary -- but what is essential is simply lighting just one candle.

This has already been a long post, but I do want to make just one point about R' Shteinman zt"l.  There has been so much written this week about him, but what I found most incredible is a video clip of him sitting at his desk, surrounded by little school age kids, and him testing them on mishnayos.  This was one of the gedolei ha'dor, someone who had the problems of Klal Yisrael on his shoulders, someone consulted by leaders, other Roshei Yeshiva, etc.  Can you imagine a big politician stopping by an elementary school to test children on their math skills, or something like that?  Unheard of.  R' Shteinman, despite  a schedule crammed with meetings with bigwigs who sought his advise and counsel, never lost sight of the importance of simple people and simple things like inspiring Jewish children to learn Torah.  That's gadlus. 


  1. --does the shamash equate with "the fire of the mizbeyach"? why isn't the mitzvah of Chanukah lighting limited to Kohanim, since it is only they who had "access to" the altar, only they who lit the ner ma'aravi?

    --"Chanukah commemorates lighting the single ner ma' the whole menorah is a hidur"
    a hidur, or a busha to the solitary ner ma'aravi, leaving it a lesser and lesser moon to an ever expanding chanukian sun? Hashem Himself needed atonement for a similar discrepancy (Chullin 60b)

    1. (grasping Vayigash by the heel) 47:22 seems entirely redundant: (1)Yosef didn't buy because Paro gave the priests what to eat; (2)the priests ate what Paro gave them, so they didn't sell-- redundant!

      No!! in actuality, Yosef refrained from offering to buy for so long as the gift to the priests was abstract, something administrative, a feature on parchment; he only proposed purchase when the priests had concretely eaten*, when the priests found themselves AL HA-SOVA: only then would they refuse to sell**; Yosef waited til they were feelingly full so that the priests would not be situated properly as priests***, so that they would NOT become landless (Bamidbar 18:20); an Egyptian priest--when removed from the land, and so the more priestly a vessel--would roughly equal an Israelite at the 49th level of tumah who is turned toward the One True god; like the Israelite, such a priest conceivably could've known the light of Shemos 10:23, rather than suffer with his co-religionists the miracle darkness; it was Kohanim who were properly part of the landLESS scheme of things, those who found the single flask of oil, who merited to experience miracle light, the enduring light of the ner ma'aravi****...

      *Yosef had already maneuvered around food, Bereishis 43:16-34; likewise the dreams of the cupbearer, the baker, and Paro himself (cows eating cows), revolved around feeding

      **not feeling any need for cash-in-hand to buy bread (not waiting on Paro's designated provisions)

      ***albeit situated toward false gods

      ****its light ascending away from the land (thus landless), while darkness settles on earth (choshech al-eretz, 10:21)

    2. *oops-- omitted another pivotal feeding, at 37:25, this time working against Yosef...

  2. Thank you for both the Rog and the ShY. I had no idea. I have to say, the tshuva in the Rog displays a powerful attack and an awesome riposte.