1. The Zohar comments, “each day performs its service.” That statement implies that there is a particular mode of service appropriate for each day. Nevertheless, certain days during the Jewish year—the festivals—stand out. They communicate unique aspects of G-dliness and teach special Torah lessons. These lessons are intended to affect a Jew’s behavior in the following year. Then, according to the principle, “always proceed higher in holy matters,” that lesson must be learned again in the coming years in a deeper manner.
Likewise, the festival of Chanukah brings out its own lessons in the service of G-d. In fact, there is an added quality to the lessons of Chanukah which surpass those of the other festivals. The Talmud relates, “All festivals will be nullified in Messianic times with the exception of Chanukah and Purim.” This statement implies that Chanukah possesses an advantage (and its lessons have more power) over the other festivals, even now. The value of something permanent surpasses that of something temporary at all times, not only after the temporary object has ceased to exist. Similarly, the fact that Chanukah will never be nullified teaches us that even now, while the other festivals still exist, it is of primary importance.
The lessons of Chanukah are expressed through the Chanukah candles. Since Chanukah is an eternal festival, those lessons apply to each Jew, at all times and in every place. In order for a lesson to be so generally applicable, it must be simple. By finding a lowest common denominator, the lesson can be made relevant to every Jew. The simplicity of the lesson, though, does not detract from its significance. On the contrary, simplicity is important, as the Previous Rebbe remarked, “the simplicity of a Jew connects him to G-d’s ultimate simplicity.”
The Chanukah candles teach many lessons. For example, the candles are positioned at the doorway so that their light will also shine into the street, demonstrating that not only a Jew’s home, but also his surrounding environment will be illuminated by the Chanukah lights. Furthermore, each day the Jew lights another candle. Even though on the first day, lighting one candle fulfills the mitzvah completely, on the second night he lights two. Similarly, on the following days he continues the pattern of adding new candles.
[According to strict Talmudic law, it is only necessary to light one candle each night of Chanukah. Just “Mehadrin min hameharin” (those who are most strict in Torah observance) add a candle every night. Nevertheless, now in this era, the period which directly precedes Mashiach’s coming, it has become common practice for every Jew to add a new light each night. Without question, we all fulfill what was then a custom of only the most careful.]
This custom brings out a practical lesson. Regardless of the rung of service achieved yesterday, today a Jew must add and grow in holiness. He must continually progress, reaching new heights each day.
2. The latter days of Chanukah provide an additional lesson. By the seventh day, Chanukah candles have been lit on each day of the week. Each day has its own special character. The Shabbos is by nature, a day devoted to spirituality. On the Shabbos, a Jew’s service of Torah and Mitzvos is easier. Also, as the Gemorah notes, the Shabbos affects those days which are closest to it. It calls the three days that follow the Shabbos “after Shabbos” and the three days that precede it, “before Shabbos.” The connection on the following days to Shabbos is so great that the Halachah allows “Havdalah” to be made until sunset on Tuesday.
Likewise, the change in the “song of the day” recited each morning emphasizes the differences between the service of G-d appropriate to each of the days of the week. In the Bais HaMikdash, the Levites chanted the “song of the day” during the “Tamid” (daily) sacrifices each morning, that were intended to atone for the sins of the Jewish people. Within the context of this general intention, though, each day’s offering had a different purpose of its own. The change resulted from this distinction in service. Each day, as well as requiring a different service to G-d, also presents different challenges to overcome. By lighting Chanukah candles on every day of the week in the manner of “Mehadrin min hamehadrin,” a Jew demonstrates that no circumstance will stand in the way of his performance of Torah and Mitzvos. Each day he will progress in the service of G-d, constantly adding light.
The same concept holds true on a personal level. Every situation poses its own difficulties. No two men react in the same way. What is easy for one is hard for another, and what excites one person does not excite another. The seven days of the week include all possible situations which a person might face. When a Jew lights candles for an entire week and adds new light each day, he shows that he will overcome all obstacles in the service of G-d.
3. The eighth day of Chanukah brings out an even deeper lesson. The Rashba explains that the number seven includes the entire continuum of time. The number eight stands above that continuum and “protects it.” The eighth day has a connection to time — it can also be measured out in hours and minutes — and yet, it is above time. It reveals unique and unbounded energies. Therefore it can “protect” the holiness of the seven preceding days. Similarly, the Chanukah festival does not only possess the qualities of seven described above, but has an eighth day as well.
The eighth day contributes another important element to the festival of Chanukah. The custom of adding new light becomes possible only on the second day, since on the first day of Chanukah only one candle is lit. Therefore, it is not until the eighth day, that the Jew has added new light and fulfilled the Chanukah mitzvah in the manner of “Mehadrin min hamehadrin,” for an entire week. Only then, has he really demonstrated that he will add new light, i.e. progress Jewishly in all situations.
4. In the prayer “HaNeiros Hallallu,” (“These Candles”) we proclaim, “these candles are holy. We are not permitted to make use of them but only to look at them.” This statement raises a contradiction. Chanukah candles cannot be lit in the daytime, because, as the Talmud says, “What use are candles in sunlight?” They must be lit at night, when their light can serve purpose. (In fact, if the people at home are sleeping and cannot use the candlelight, Torah prohibits reciting a “brocha” over the candles.). Nevertheless, we are not allowed to use the candlelight. In fact, we light an extra candle, the “Shamash,” and place it above the others. If by chance, someone benefits from the Menorah’s light, it is attributed to the “Shamash.” The precaution of leaving the “Shamash” burning costs extra money. Nevertheless, a Jew is willing to incur that expense in order to ensure that he derives no benefit from the Chanukah lights. Even though the Torah explains that special encouragement is necessary for any mitzvos which incur expense, all Jews will willingly light a “Shamash.”
These customs produce a lesson on that applies to the personal life of a Jew. The highest rung of a Jew’s service is carrying out Torah and Mitzvos “L’shma” (for no other reason than the fulfillment of G-d’s will). However, an ulterior motive often creeps into the Jew’s mind. All mitzvos have rewards attached to their performance, as the Torah proclaims, “if you will walk in my statues ...I will bring rains in their seasons, etc.” In some cases, the nature of that reward is revealed. In others, it is concealed. Many times, the thought of reward, either physical or spiritual, is what motivates a Jew’s Torah observance. This type of service is called “l0 1°shma” in Hebrew. The tendency to look for reward is so deeply rooted that the Rambam, in his description of the levels of service to G-d writes, “a person should always serve G-d ‘Lo L’shma’ because the service of G-d ‘Lo L’shma’ will bring him to the service ‘L’shma.”‘ In the early stages of service, a person should not have the pressure of his ultimate goal.
The Chanukah candles teach an important lesson . Their light serves as a symbol (and is a physical expression) of the reward received. The reward for the Chanukah mitzvah is apparent. However, despite, his awareness of that reward, the Jew refuses to accept it. He fulfills the mitzvah “L’shma;” (lights candles) only because, “you sanctified us with your mitzvos and commanded us.” Furthermore the Chanukah candles are lit at sunset. Figuratively, this refers to a Jew who does not see light; i.e. he is in the first stages of service to G-d. Generally at this level of service, his intentions are “Lo L’shma.” Nevertheless, when he lights the Chanukah candles he does not seek a reward. In this manner, he demonstrates that his goal is service “L’shma.”
The Chanukah candles are positioned at the entrance to the house. A passer-by can see the candles and also the “Shamash” burning brightly. The “Shamash’s” presence serves as a public declaration that the Jew’s goal is service to G-d, “L’shma.” Lighting candles every day of the week in a manner of “Mehadrin min hamehadrim,” teaches even a Jew who is far from service to G-d, “L’shma,” that he must channel his energies in that direction.
May our service of lighting Chanukah candles bring about the future redemption. Then, “a Cohen (High Priest) will appear in Tzion” and light the Menorah in the Bais HaMikdash. That Menorah’s light will go forth and illuminate the entire world.
5. It is important to continue working on “Mivtza Chanukah” (the campaign to encourage Jews to light Chanukah candles). Even though many people worked very hard in all the previous seven days (including Shabbos, since you are allowed to stress public needs on Shabbos) and only the eighth day remains, it is necessary to intensify the efforts. The eighth day is called “Zos Chanukah” (“This is Chanukah”). It includes all the seven preceding days. We must go out and find an estranged Jew who does not know about the holiday of Chanukah, its laws, and its customs. We must teach him about the holiday. Then since “the heart of a Jew is awake,” he will also light Chanukah candles.
6. Concerning the custom of adding new candles every night, the Gemorah asks, “Should we start by lighting eight candles and light one less each night, or should one candle be lit on the first night and new lights added.” Bais Hillel (School of Hillel) holds by the latter opinion; Bais Shammai (School of Shammai) holds the former.
The Gemorah brings two different explanations of their opinions. One Sage maintains that Bais Hillel’s reason is that a candle is lit for all the days that have past. On the other hand, Bais Shammai holds that a candle should be lit for each day that remains. A second Sage explains that Hillel holds by the principle, “ascend higher in holy matters and do not descend.” Bais Shammai, on the other hand, compares the candles to the bulls offered on Sukkos, when one less bull was sacrificed each succeeding day. Similarly, in this case, he holds that one less candle should be lit.
The Halachah follows Bais Hillel. However the differences in the explanations provided by these two Sages also bring out some differences in Halachah. The fundamental principle around which these differences revolve is that by strict law, it is necessary to light only one candle each day. Those who are “Mehadrin” though, follow Hillel’s principle and add , new lights every night.
The questions arise:
a) If on the second night of Chanukah, one was forced to light only one candle, how many candles should be lit on the third night? According to the principle of “one candle for each night passed,” one should light three. However, according to the principle of “ascend higher in holy matters,” it would only be necessary to light two.
b) Then on the third night if he cannot light three candles, should he light one or two? According to the former opinion (one candle for each night) it is possible that he should only light one. However, according to the latter opinion, since it specifically states, “do not descend” he would have to light two. Even according to the former opinion, though, there is room to say that he should light two. Although he cannot honor all the days which have passed, he can at least honor two of them.
c) Finally, according to the last rationale, if on the seventh day he only has enough oil for five candles — how many should he light? If he tries to honor as Many days as possible, he should light five — to honor at least five of the days which have passed. However, according to the opinion “ascend in holy matters and do not descend,” it is possible to say he should only light one, since in this case he will have to descend (the night before, he lit six and tonight the most he can light is five).
7. Among the activities of “Mivtza Chanukah” (the campaign to encourage Jews to light the Chanukah menorah) should be an effort to assist Jews in hospitals to light Chanukah candles.
The presence of a Jew in a hospital and his lack of physical health can result from either of two reasons: a) a lacking in the fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvos, b) in the words of the Zohar, “the strength of the soul causes weakness of the body.”
Both statements need explanation. Regarding the first reason, the Torah says, “You shall be perfect with G-d.” Perfection comes through fulfillment of the commandments, the 248 positives commandments, and the 365 negative commandments. That practice brings perfection in health. All the body’s 248 limbs and 365 sinews will be healthy through the practice of Torah and Mitzvos.
The Zohar’s statement arouses a number of questions. The Maggid of Mezeritch commented that a small hole in the body makes a big hole in the soul. Likewise, the Rambam writes that the body’s health and completeness is part of the service of G-d. How can these quotes be reconciled with the Zohar’s statement “the strength of the body causes weakness of the soul. The strength of the soul causes weakness of the body.”
However, no one argues that a healthy body assists one in performing Torah and Mitzvos. If the soul is strong, it does not harm or weaken the body. On the contrary, once the Jew fulfills the mitzvah of keeping the body health, nothing prevents him from fulfilling Torah and Mitzvos. The phrase “strength of the body” in the Zohar refers to the strength of the body’s physical desires that brings weakness to the soul. For example, someone might desire to eat something because it tastes good. But that food might be unhealthy and will hurt his body and his soul. When the soul is strong, he will overcome these desires and weaken them. However, if the body-that is, its desires-is strong, then it will weaken the soul.
The Zohar’s statement can also be understood in the context of a statement of the Alter Rebbe. He writes that it is forbidden to damage the body. However, if a person’s intention are to do “Teshuvah” (repentance) and in the process he hurts the body (e.g. through fasts), it is considered an acceptable service.
Therefore, when looking at ourselves, we have to say that any lack in physical health results from a lack of spiritual health. However, when looking at someone else, we must say that his lack of health results from his service of “Teshuvah.” Even if that is not the case, his sickness should arouse feelings of mercy. A Jew’s troubles should move you to mercy. The Alter Rebbe explained that even though the Talmud says you are “assur” (forbidden) to have mercy on a fool, the word “assur” should be interpreted as bound. His difficulties force you to have mercy on him.
- (Back to text) The statement “All the festivals will be nullified” does not mean that in Messianic times, these festivals will not be celebrated. Now, as stated, the festivals are unique days More G-dliness is revealed than on ordinary days. In Messianic times, the revelations even on ordinary days will be so great that they will obscure those of the festivals. The festivals will no longer be important. The effect of their revelation will then be comparable to that of a candle shining in broad daylight. The significance of Chanukah and Purim is that even after Messianic times, the revelation will be powerful enough that they will be considered as festivals and special days.
- (Back to text) The Rambam made a similar statement commenting on the Midrash: “These (Chanukah) candles will never be nullified.”
- (Back to text) According to some opinions Yom Kippur also will remain a holiday in Messianic times.
- (Back to text) A human being possesses three means of expression:. thought, speech, and action. Chanukah is connected to all three: deed the lighting of the candles; speech — the recitation of “Hallel;” and thought — “Hodeah” (thanksgiving to G-d).
The utilization of all three means of expression to fulfill Torah is stressed by the verse “the fulfillment of Torah] is very close to you, in your mouth (speech) and your heart thought) that you may do it (deed).” This verse is used by the Alter Rebbe as an introduction to the Tanya. The connection between the verse and Chanukah emphasizes the relationship between Yud-Tes Kislev and Chanukah.
- (Back to text) Since the stress is on the simple lesson, the explanation centers on the lighting of candles-deed-as opposed to “Hallel” and “Hodeah” (thought and speech). Each person thinks and speaks differently but deed is always the same.
The order in which they are performed serves as a proof of the preeminence of deed (the candles) over “Hallel” and “Hodeah.” “Hallel” is not recited until the morning of the first day. “Hodeah” is possible from nightfall. However, the Chanukah candles are lit before the previous day ends.
- (Back to text) The “Tamid” offering brings about atonement for the sins of the Jewish people. Therefore, the Talmud comments “if you see a Torah scholar commit a sin at night—do not think lowly of him the next day. The “Tamid” has already atoned for his sin.”
- (Back to text) In Tanya, the Alter Rebbe writes, “the mind of one person is not excited from the same object that excites someone else.” This difference in intellectual sensitivity produces difference in feeling, thought, and action, since all powers of expression emanate from the mind.
- (Back to text) Logically, the Chanukah candles which are themselves a mitzvah should be placed higher than. the “Shamash,” which merely serves a mitzvah. However, to insure that no benefit is derived from the Chanukah candles, the “Shamash” is positioned higher.
- (Back to text) Within the category of fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvos “L’shma,” various rungs exists.
- (Back to text) A unique lesson is derived when the Chanukah candles are lit on Friday night together with the Shabbos candles. Though, as stated above, the use of the Chanukah candles’ light is prohibited, the Shabbos candles are lit with the specific intention that their light be used. The purpose in lighting them is “so that no one will stumble over wood or stone.” When both mitzvos come together, a Jew learns that mitzvos must be performed “L’shma” (the lesson of the Chanukah candles), even though he will receive a reward.
- (Back to text) From the Talmud, it appears that their is no prohibition against using the light of the Menorah in the Bais HaMikdash for one’s own purpose.
- (Back to text) The Talmud quotes Rav Shashes “May my loss of fat and blood from a fast) be considered as if they were offered as a sacrifice.”