Illuminations #55, Kislev 5776, Parshat Miketz

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Illuminations #55, Kislev 5776, Parshat Miketz

Torah Gems

One of the most famous discussions in Rabbinic literature may have been raised by Bais Yosef (Tur Orach Chaim s670) regarding the duration of Chanukah. What is clear from all sources is that the kohanim entered the Bais Hamikdash after a three year aggression that wrested much of the country, including the Temple Mount, out of Jewish control. Upon finding defilement and destruction, the kohanim set up a make-shift menorah, but only one small flask of oil could be located. It was enough to burn for one night. In order to obtain a fresh supply they would need to wait eight days. Miraculously the lamps remained lit until the fresh supply became available eight days later. Hence our observation of Chanukah for eight days.

The difficulty the Bais Yosef raised has engaged some of Judaism’s most brilliant minds for some centuries. If there was in fact enough oil to burn naturally for one night, why is Chanukah not celebrated for only the seven miraculous nights? If nothing miraculous occurred on the first night, why is that night included?

Countless scholars have offered endless streams of answers with conservative estimates at over one hundred answers. Here we will cite one answer that emerges from the core of Jewish ideology. So-called natural events take place only because Hashem wills it. When seen in perspective of Hashem’s will, the burning of the first night was no less miraculous than the other seven nights. In recognition of this, the sages established eight days for Chanukah.

There is a story in the Talmud (Taanis 25a) demonstrating this basic truth. Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa learned that his daughter was very distraught after realizing that she mistakenly poured vinegar instead of oil into the Shabbos lamps. Rabbi Chanina calmed her by saying, “Why are you concerned? The One (Hashem) who commanded oil to burn shall command vinegar, and it will burn.” And so it was. Rabbi Chanina’s home glowed with the miraculous candlelight for the whole Shabbos due to his deep-rooted recognition of Hashem in every “natural” occurrence.


Parsha Pearls

One might be surprised to learn that according to the letter of the law our familiar Chanukah candelabra is superfluous! The Halacha states that only one flame per household is necessary to observe the Yom Tov of Chanukah. Only those who wish to perform extra mitzvos need to add additional flames according to the number of people in the household. An even greater degree of this mitzvah can be performed when each household member lights one additional flame every night of Chanukah. Is there any other mitzvah in the Torah that offers different levels of observance? It is true that in all mitzvos there is a general idea of performing mitzvos with ‘Hidur’ according to one’s financial abilities. But nowhere else do we find three specified levels of observing a single mitzvah.

Why is Chanukah unique in that we are guided to a higher level of observance? The Bais Halevi, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, explains that in fact the entire miracle of the burning oil was solely for an act of Hidur mitzvah, for if  it was only to fulfill the letter of the law, no miracle was necessary at all! There was only enough oil to burn for one night using the standard size cups and wicks. It could have easily been replaced with cups and wicks one eighth in size, thereby buying enough time to procure new oil. Nevertheless, the Hidur mitzvah was so crucial to the Chashmonaim to show Hashem their dedication above and beyond, they proceeded to light the larger standard size wicks. Seeing this, Hashem granted them this miracle that the oil burned all eight days.

How apropos to commemorate a miracle for enthusiastic observance with the opportunity to perform equally enthusiastic mitzvos.

Glimpses of Greatness

The Chozeh of Lublin earned his accolade of “Chozeh,” which means “Seer,” from his unique spiritual abilities to see farther and deeper than the average person. It is said that by gazing at an individual’s face after Yom Kippur, the Chozeh could discern what the person had davened for and what the verdict in Heaven had been.

One day during the Yom Tov of Chanukah, he was implored by devoted disciples to utter a curse on a known “Moser,” one who reports on fellow Jews (to an unscrupulous government), who was putting many lives in danger. The Chozeh asked for a paper with the man’s name written on it. Upon glancing at the name before him, he shouted, “Tzadik! I can’t have any influence on this person.” The disciples were astounded! How can it be? This person is known beyond the shadow of a doubt to be a first-class rasha! The disciples decided to wait a week and bring up the matter once more before questioning their holy Rebbe.

After the week was up, the disciples again approached the Chozeh. This time, after glancing at the name on the paper, the Chozeh exclaimed, “Rasha!” Immediately, the Rasha died. Although relieved, the devoted followers of the Chozeh were curios why this time the Chozeh reacted so differently. The Rebbe explained, “Last week was Chanukah and I saw that at the moment we looked at his name, he was engaged in lighting the Menorah. When a person fulfills a Mitzvah, that very Mitzvah serves as a shield for him. This week, however, he no longer had the protection of the Mitzva. Therefore, you were able to eliminate him in fear of future harm.”

Halacha Weekly

Question: What can’t a person do before lighting or during lighting?

Answer: Half an hour before lighting one is prohibited to have a meal which is made of more than two ounces of bread, but is allowed to eat fruits or the like during that half hour. Even if one started the meal more than half an hour prior to lighting one should stop his meal half an hour prior to the proper time for lighting.

One also cannot learn half an hour before lighting. When the time comes one should stop learning in order to light at the proper time.

During the time that the menorah is burning, one should not do any melacha for the first half hour.

Question: When is the proper time to light?

Answer: There are different opinions when one should light. One opinion is at sunset. A second is twenty minutes after sunset. A third opinion is forty minutes after sunset. The custom is that one should light at Tzeit Hakochavim.

One should not use an electric menorah for Chanukah. If one does not have the opportunity to light a flame he may use the electric menorah without a berocha. However, electric candlesticks are permitted for Shabbos.