The Greatness of Peace

At the conclusion of his discussion of the laws of Chanukah, the Rambam writes:1

If [a person has the means to perform only one of two mitzvos,] lighting a lamp for one’s home [i.e., the Shabbos candles] or a Chanukah lamp; or a lamp for one’s home or the sanctification of the day (Kiddush) , the lamp for one’s home is granted priority, since it generates peace within the home….

Peace is great. Indeed, the entire Torah was granted solely to bring about peace in the world.

The question arises: Why does the Rambam explain the importance of peace in the portion of the Mishneh Torah dealing with the laws of Chanukah? It seems that it would have been more appropriate to state this law in Hilchos Shabbos. Indeed, the law applying to Kiddush which the Rambam quotes2 has no connection with the laws of Chanukah. And stating the law in Hilchos Shabbos would not have prevented him from adding the conclusion concerning the importance of peace.

Two Frequencies of Light

This question can be resolved by explaining the difference between the lamps of the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash and the Chanukah lamps. Among the differences between these two mitzvos are:

a) the lamps of the Menorah were kindled within the Sanctuary , while the Chanukah lamps are kindled “at the outside of the entrance to one’s house.”3

b) the lamps of the Menorah were kindled during the day, while the Chanukah lamps are kindled “after sunset,” with the intent that they burn into the night.

The lamps of the Menorah were kindled in a place where holiness was overtly revealed, in the Beis HaMikdash. There the concealment of G‑dliness which characterizes our material world was not apparent. Therefore, when the Greeks brought impurity into the Beis HaMikdash , all the elements of sacrificial worship carried out there, and in particular the kindling of Menorah, were nullified.

The Chanukah candles serve a different purpose. Their intent is to illuminate our environment and brighten the darkness of night, i.e., the exile. Indeed, the Chanukah lights have the potential to negate the forces of evil. This is alluded to in our Sages’ statement4 that the candles should burn until “the feet of the Tarmudites depart from the marketplace.” The Hebrew name Tarmud (תרמוד) shares the same letters as the word moredes (מורדת), “rebellious one,” and refers to the forces of evil. 5

This indicates that the Chanukah lights possess a dimension which surpasses the lights of the Menorah. This is also reflected in the Ramban s commentary,6 which explains that the lights of the Menorah were negated by the influence of the Greeks, who desecrated the holiness of the Beis HaMikdash. The lamps of Chanukah, by contrast, will never be nullified. They will continue to shine even in exile, in the times of the greatest darkness.

This parallels the advantage which baalei teshuvah, those who repent, possesses over the righteous.7 The righteous have no connection to evil. A baal teshuvah, by contrast, has tasted evil, but through teshuvah has found the power to transform his past. Even intentional transgressions can be converted into merits;8 the evil itself becomes good.

These concepts are also reflected in the fact that we light a greater number of candles on Chanukah (eight) than in the Beis HaMikdash (seven). These numbers are also significant. Seven refers to perfection within the natural order, as reflected in the seven days of the week. This applies in our material world, and in the Seder HaHishtalshelus, the chainlike progression of spiritual realms. Therefore, in the Beis HaMikdash, where G‑dliness was revealed, seven lamps were sufficient, for seven represents the light of the natural order.

When, however, the intent is to illuminate the darkness of exile, it is necessary to employ a light which transcends the natural order. Such a light is produced by the eight lamps kindled on Chanukah. For the number eight reflects a light that is not bound by any limits.9

Fusing Two Thrusts

Baalei teshuvah possess an advantage over the righteous; they draw down a higher level of light. Nevertheless, the righteous also possess an advantage over baalei teshuvah; they have nothing to do with evil. Their Divine service involves only good, and they are privileged to experience a far greater revelation of Divine light.

For this reason, the peak of Divine service involves the fusion of both approaches, that of the righteous and the baalei teshuvah. This will be accomplished with the coming of Mashiach, who will “motivate the righteous to turn to G‑d in teshuvah. ”10 The fusion of these two approaches is only made possible by a light which transcends both of them, and is therefore able to bring them both together.11

The fusion of these two paths of service is also reflected in the Chanukah candles. 12

Their purpose is to illuminate the night of exile. They are, however, rooted in the lamps of the Beis HaMikdash. For the Chanukah lamps were instituted to commemorate the miracle that took place concerning the lights of the Menorah, and they perpetuate that light.

This concept is also alluded to by the eight Chanukah lamps, for the number eight is associated with the Era of the Redemption. Thus our Sages relate13 that the harp used in the Beis HaMikdash had seven strings, but the harp in the Era of the Redemption will have eight. This refers to the revelation which transcends the natural order. This revelation is, however, itself encompassed by the influence of G‑d’s essence, which reflects the ultimate level of transcendence. And this level can fuse the Divine light which permeates the natural order (paralleled in the context of Divine service by the devotion of the righteous) with the Divine light which transcends the natural order (paralleled by the commitment of baalei teshuvah).

The Connection Between Chanukah and Peace

On this basis, we can understand why the Rambam underscores the greatness of peace in Hilchos Chanukah. Peace refers to the establishment of unity between opposing thrusts.14 With regard to opposites, there are several levels. With regard to the matter at hand peace in the home we are speaking about establishing unity between the elements of the house and their ultimate purpose, the indwelling of the Divine Presence. For every Jewish home is “a sanctuary in microcosm”15 where the Divine Presence rests.

In particular, this refers to the establishment of peace between a husband and wife. (For the term “his home” is also employed to mean “his wife.”16) Although men and women have opposite tendencies, they can complement and assist each other.17

The kindling of Shabbos candles was instituted to bring about peace in the home.18

Similarly, the Chanukah candles are also intended to bring about peace. Indeed, they are intended to bring about an even higher level of peace: peace between darkness (the time when the Chanukah candles are lit) and light, between the natural order and the light that transcends the natural order.

To explain this in terms of our Divine service: There are two dimensions of the Chanukah lights:

a) The dimension of teshuvah, i.e., that darkness will be illuminated, establishing peace between entities that appreciate their selfhood and G‑d.

b) The fusion of the service of teshuvah with the service of the righteous, so that the light which transcends the natural order will shine within the natural order.

This is the ultimate intent. When, however, a person lacks resources, his first priority must be the establishment of peace in the home, and not the illumination of his environment. Thus kindling Shabbos candles, establishing peace in the home, is given precedence.

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vayeishev, 5722)

The Purpose of Light

There is a difference between the Chanukah lights and other candles kindled to observe mitzvos. Indeed, this distinction applies even with regard to the lights of the Menorah, which are the source for the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles. Other lights associated with mitzvos are merely intermediaries through which one can reach a desired goal. The Chanukah candles, by contrast, are not intermediaries; the light they produce represents their purpose.

To explain: In general, the other lights associated with mitzvos can be divided into two categories:

a) lights kindled for the sake of honor, such as those kindled in a shul to enhance the honor of the building. They are not lit for the sake of their light, and therefore the blessing borei meorei ho’eish, recited during the Havdalah ceremony, may not be recited on these candles.19

b) candles kindled for the sake of their light. For example, the Shabbos candles are kindled so that their light will bring peace in the home. Similarly, with regard to the candles of the Menorah, it is written:20 “The candles will shine,” i.e., they were kindled to produce light.

Similarly, the Chanukah candles were kindled to provide light. For this reason, it is necessary to explain21 that these lights should not be used for Havdalah, because it is forbidden to derive any benefit from them. Were we allowed to benefit from them, they could be used for the Havdalah ceremony, for their purpose is to provide light.

A distinction can, however, be made between the Chanukah candles on the one hand, and Shabbos candles and candles of the Menorah on the other. The Shabbos candles and the candles of the Menorah were kindled for a purpose: the Shabbos candles to establish peace in the home, and the candles of the Menorah to serve as “testimony to the world that the Divine Presence rests within Israel.”22 With regard to the Chanukah lights, by contrast, their purpose is in the light itself; they have no other purposes.

True, the Talmud23 states that the purpose of the Chanukah candles is to “publicize the [Chanukah] miracle.” This does not, however, represent their fundamental purpose. Their fundamental purpose is to shine forth; incidentally, this light also publicizes the Chanukah miracle.24 This explanation is borne out by the fact that we recite a blessing over the Chanukah candles even when kindling them does not publicize the Chanukah miracle.25

This is not true with regard to the Shabbos candles. If they are lit in a manner that does not enable the purpose of generating peace in the home to be fulfilled, it is forbidden to recite a blessing upon them. For example, when several heads of families kindle Shabbos lights in a single candelabrum, the additional candles do not increase the functional dimension of the light. Therefore it is forbidden to recite a blessing on the additional candles.26

With regard to Chanukah candles, the Talmud rules27 that a candelabrum with two candleholders may be used by two individuals. Although the second candle does not cause the miracle to have been further publicized, the second person is also considered to be fulfilling the mitzvah, and should recite a blessing before doing so.

Similarly, the Talmud states28 that in a time of danger,29 when the Chanukah lights cannot be kindled in a manner that overtly publicizes the miracle, it is sufficient to light them on a table within one’s home, and a blessing should be recited. This indicates that publicizing the Chanukah miracle is an incidental reason for kindling Chanukah candles. Their fundamental purpose is the light which they produce.

A Glimmer of Transcendence

The reason for the above distinction can be explained as follows: All the elements of the Chanukah miracle the decrees of the Greeks in that age, the self-sacrifice of the Jews which brought about the miracle, the miracle itself, and the commemoration of the miracle as instituted by our Sages revolve around one concept: the Jews’ commitment to G‑d, which transcends the limits of rational thought.

To explain: The intent of the decrees issued by the Greeks was “to make them forget Your Torah.”30 The emphasis is on “Your Torah” the Torah as it is connected with G‑d, i.e., the G‑dliness in the Torah which transcends rational thought. The Greeks did not object to the Jews studying the wisdom and logic of the Torah. But they desired that the Torah be studied without the appreciation that it is G‑d’s Torah.

Similarly, with regard to the observance of mitzvos, the Greeks’ intent was to have the Jews “violate the decrees of Your will.” The word “decrees” refers to the chukim, the mitzvos whose rationale transcends the limits of knowledge and which are observed out of a commitment of kabbalas ol, a desire to fulfill G‑d’s will. These were the mitzvos which the Greeks endeavored to stamp out.

More particularly, the Greeks would have accepted the observance of the chukim if the motive for this observance had a basis in logic. They would not have objected had the Jews said: It is true we do not understand the rationale for the chukim. Nevertheless, we rely on the fact that He who commanded their observance represents ultimate knowledge. Thus we can assume that the chukim also possess a rationale, although that rationale transcends the limits of ordinary mortal knowledge.31

What the Greeks objected to was the Jews’ commitment to observe the chukim because of kabbalas ol, without seeking any rationale. They opposed the desire to obey solely because the mitzvos are G‑d’s will.32

This explanation also enables us to understand why the Greeks made the oil in the Beis HaMikdash impure rather than destroying it or stealing it. The laws of ritual purity and impurity are also chukim, transcending the limits of mortal knowledge. As the Midrash states:33 “The Holy One, blessed be He, declares: ‘This is a statute which I have instituted, a decree which I have ordained. You have no permission to violate it.’ ” There is no reason in mortal logic why a corpse should impart ritual impurity, or why a mikveh should impart ritual purity. These are decrees from G‑d which the Jews must observe. Since ritual impurity is a concept which transcends mortal intellect, the Greeks strove against it, and “made all the oil in the Sanctuary impure.”34

Similarly, the Jewish response to the challenge presented by the Greeks transcended the limits of mortal intellect. The Jews fought the Greeks with mesirus nefesh; although the battle pitted “the weak against the strong,” they were willing to sacrifice their lives for G‑d, His Torah, and His mitzvos. Such self-sacrifice by nature exceeds any commitment inspired by understanding.

Comparable ideas apply with regard to the Chanukah miracle. By definition, every miracle transcends the limits of knowledge. In addition, the Chanukah miracle is unique in that it was wrought “to show [G‑d’s] love for the Jewish people,”35 a love which is not bound by the limits of reason.

Since the miracle of the Chanukah lamp reveals a connection between the Jews and G‑d that transcends all limits, our Sages ordained that the fundamental celebration of Chanukah reflect this bond. Therefore they ordained that we light candles36 commemorating the miracle which transpired with the cruse of oil, instead of the military victory (which is commemorated with prayers of praise and thanksgiving). This points to the transcendent bond which the Jews share with G‑d.37

Accordingly, we can appreciate why the light of the Chanukah candles has a self-contained purpose. They reflect the bond with G‑d’s essence. That itself is their purpose; there can be no other objective for them.

Three Planes of Light

As mentioned above, in general, the purpose of the Shabbos candles, the candles of the Menorah, and the Chanukah candles is to produce light. Our Sages say:38 “There is no light other than the Torah, as it is written:39 ‘A mitzvah is a candle, and the Torah, light.’ ” Thus the light produced by all these three types of candles is Torah. The three types of candles allude to three different types of light, three different approaches to studying the Torah.

One of the purposes of Torah study is to become knowledgeable concerning the observance of the mitzvos, knowing what and how we are required to observe. Through this observance, the Torah brings peace to the world.40 This parallels the Shabbos candles, which are kindled for the sake of “peace in the home.”

Another purpose of Torah study is to connect the Jewish people with G‑d.41 This parallels the lights of the Menorah , which served as testimony that the Divine Presence rests with the Jewish people.

The highest level of Torah study is Torah lishmah, the study of Torah for its own sake, without any other intent. It is this approach to Torah study which binds a Jew with G‑d’s essence.42 And with regard to G‑d’s essence (and similarly with regard to the Torah, which is one with G‑d’s essence) it is impossible to say that He exists for a purpose outside of Himself. This dimension is paralleled by the Chanukah candles.43

The Potential is Sufficient

As stated above, publicizing the Chanukah miracle is merely an incidental factor, and is not the fundamental purpose of kindling the Chanukah candles. This concept is not refuted by the law which states that if a person lights Chanukah candles in a place where they will not be seen by others, e.g., higher than 20 cubits,44 or at time when they will not be seen,45 he is not considered to have fulfilled the mitzvah.

To explain: The mitzvah of kindling Chanukah candles is to light a lamp which provides light for people.46 This light must also be positioned in a place where it can publicize the Chanukah miracle. There is, however, no obligation that others actually see the Chanukah lights. All that is necessary is that the candles produce a light which can be seen by others.47

The opinion which maintains and which is accepted as halachah that it is forbidden to benefit from the light of the Chanukah candles holds that the purpose of this light is not to effect change with regard to our immediate temporal concerns, for this light transcends the natural order. Even the changes which it does effect in the world are distinct from ordinary worldly matters. (Both of these concepts are reflected in the nature of oil: On one hand, oil permeates all objects. Simultaneously, it does not become mixed with any other liquid.) Since this transcendent light does not enclothe itself within the world and adapt itself to its limits, the process of transmission to lower levels does not cause it to undergo contraction.

This can be connected to the Ramban s statements (in his commentary to the beginning of Parshas Behaalos’cha) that the Chanukah candles and the priestly blessing will never be nullified. For the Chanukah candles and the priestly blessing share a common factor: They draw down a light which transcends the natural order.

(This points to another connection between the two. The commemoration of Chanukah in our prayers is through the recitation of Hallel, and the addition of the prayer Al HaNissim in the blessing Modim. The Priestly Blessing is also recited after the blessing Modim. Moreover, hodo’ah, acknowledgment of G‑d’s kindness, is thematically related to the two, because the transcendent light which they convey cannot be grasped and appreciated; all that we can do is to thankfully acknowledge its influence.)

The transcendent light which the Chanukah candles and the Priestly Blessing draw down does have an effect within the world. Nevertheless, this effect is not bound by the limits of our world. On the contrary, it follows the pattern of “His word runs most swiftly” and is revealed in a transcendent manner (Tehillim 147:15). (See Likkutei Torah, the conclusion of Parshas Korach.)

To Reveal What Cannot Be Revealed

The reason that the Chanukah candles should produce light which can be seen by everyone, and which attracts public notice, can be explained as follows. The highest levels of G‑dliness, those which transcend the natural order even the essence of G‑d Himself, as it were must be drawn down to this material realm.48 These levels of light transcend the limits of our material world. Nevertheless, the ultimate intent is that they be drawn down in a manner that will enable them to permeate also our material frame of reference.

There is a parallel to this in our Divine service. The fundamental intent of the power of mesirus nefesh, which reflects the essential bond between a Jew and G‑d, is not to arouse and illuminate our revealed powers of intellect and emotion. The fundamental purpose is the mesirus nefesh itself, and the bond with G‑d which is established through it. Nevertheless, in the most complete sense, mesirus nefesh should also be openly apparent, and should affect our revealed powers, spurring them to deeper involvement in the Torah and its mitzvos. For as explained in Tanya,49 observance of the Torah and its mitzvos is dependent on mesirus nefesh. Nevertheless, even when, a person’s mesirus nefesh does not have a direct effect on his observance of the Torah and its mitzvos (as it is possible that a Chanukah lamp will not provide light for another person), there is nothing lacking in the mesirus nefesh per se. There is only a lack in the person’s revealed powers; they are not sufficiently developed to be affected by the mesirus nefesh.50

But this lack does not detract from a person’s mesirus nefesh. The power of mesirus nefesh exists within all Jews as an inherent potential, as our Sages state:51 “A Jew, even though he sins, remains a Jew.” In this instance, however, the mesirus nefesh has become an active force.

What Exile Cannot Obstruct

On the basis of the above, we can appreciate a factor which distinguishes the Chanukah candles from all other mitzvos. With regard to all the other mitzvos, there is a possibility that a gentile will prevent a Jew from observing them. Even with regard to the three mitzvos concerning which it is stated:52 “You should die rather than transgress,” a gentile’s oppression can have an effect.

Consider: Although a gentile cannot cause a Jew to nullify the observance of these mitzvos, he can prevent the Jew from fulfilling them. For if the Jew will remain firm in his observance and sacrifice his life, he will be killed, and the mitzvos will no longer be observed.

With regard to the mitzvah of Chanukah, by contrast, there is no way that a gentile can negate its observance. For as stated above, in an age when the gentiles try to prevent the Jews from observing the mitzvah, it is sufficient to kindle the Chanukah light[s] on one’s dining room table.53 No gentile will prevent a Jew from doing that.54

This factor can be explained on the basis of the concepts stated above. The mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles reflects the connection of the essence of the soul with G‑d’s essence a spiritual rung which cannot be affected by sin. As such, exile which comes as a result of sin (as we say in our prayers,55 “Because of our sins, we were exiled from our land”) can have no effect upon this mitzvah; no one can negate its observance. A gentile can issue a decree preventing a Jew from kindling a Chanukah light that shines outside his home; he cannot, however, frustrate the essence of the mitzvah, for the candles can be kindled within the home. As the Ramban states:56 “The candles of Chanukah will never be nullified.”

The concealment of G‑dliness which characterizes exile (and in a larger sense characterizes our material existence as a whole) cannot prevent the light of Chanukah from shining.

(Adapted from the sichos of the 5th night of Chanukah,
Shabbos Parshas Mikeitz, and Zos Chanukah, 5720)