"אמר רב יהודה אמר רב אסי אסור להרצות מעות כנגד נר חנוכה"
Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav Assi, ‘It is forbidden to count money opposite a Chanukah light.’ ” (Shabbat 22a)

QUESTION: The Gemara (21b) had already ruled that “it is forbidden to make use of a Chanukah candle’s light,” so what insight did Rav Assi add by specifying not to count money?

ANSWER: The Rambam (Chanukah 3:1) describes the events that led up to the miracle of Chanukah as follows: “During the time of the second Beit Hamikdash, when the Greeks reigned, they issued decrees against the Jews and nullified their laws and did not let them engage in Torah and mitzvot. They appropriated their money and daughters, and they entered the Holiness, causing damage and defilement. It was a difficult time for the Jews, and they were under much pressure until Hashem had mercy over them and saved them.”

Thus, there was a double salvation: 1) spiritual salvation — they were able to freely study Torah and observe mitzvot, and 2) physical salvation — there was no longer any danger or threat to their property. Nevertheless, the Sages declared Chanukah as a Yom Tov to be celebrated by praising Hashem and thanksgiving and not with festive meals to indicate that the spiritual salvation was primary.

With the halachah that it is forbidden to count money opposite a Chanukah light, Rav Assi is emphasizing that the celebration is not for the “money” — financial benefits derived through the miracle — but primarily for the spiritual benefit — that the Greeks were no longer able to restrict the Jews in matters of Torah and mitzvot.

(שארית מנחם)

"מצותה עד שתכלה רגל מן השוק אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר ר' יוחנן עד דכליא ריגלא דתרמודאי"
“The commandment of Chanukah lights extends until the passersby have vanished from the market. Rabbah bar bar Chanah said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: until the Tarmodians have vanished from the market.” (Shabbat 21a)

QUESTION: The Tarmodians were a group of people who sold kindling wood in the city markets. They remained longest in the market until the people returned home in the evening to start their fires and those in need of kindling wood returned to the market to purchase it.

Since the Gemara already said that the kindling continues until the passersby vanish from the market, what insight did Rabbah bar bar Chanah give us by identifying the passersby?

ANSWER: Perhaps the statement of Rabbah bar bar Chanah can be explained as a metaphor.

The purpose of lighting Chanukah candles is to illuminate the dark and gloomy “outside” world. The Syrian-Greeks endeavored to “darken” the Jewish scene by prohibiting the Jews to study Torah and perform mitzvot. To counteract this, our Sages instructed us to go “out” into the darkness of the street and illuminate it with the Chanukah candles. Candles are an allusion to Torah and mitzvot, as the pasuk says “for a candle is a mitzvah and Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23). Through bringing the light of Torah and mitzvot to the alienated, and prevailing on them to conduct their lives in accordance with Torah teaching, the “darkness” of the world is dispelled and it becomes a spiritually illuminated area.

The Kabbalists note that the word “Tarmod” (תרמוד) can be rearranged to read (מורדת) “moredet” — “rebel.” In fact, the Tarmodians were once slaves of King Shlomo who rebelled (see Yevamot 17a).

Rabbah bar bar Chanah is telling us that one must continue to light Chanukah candles until he has illuminated the outside to the extent that rigla detarmuda’ei — the feet of the rebels who are circulating among the public and influencing them to rebel against Hashem and cease observing Torah and mitzvot — are nullified and eradicated. Moreover, the rebels who wanted to arrange a mutiny and revolt against Hashem should not only be removed from the reshut harabim — public area — so that they are no longer disseminating their anti-Torah views. They, too, must come into the reshut hayachid — private domain of Hashem — and become authentic Torah observing Jews.

(התועדיות תשמ"ח ח"ב ע' 124, 688 – עמק המלך שער קרית ארבע (ק"ח,א) קהלת יעקב ערך תרמוד)

"מצותה עד שתכלה הרגל מן השוק"
“The commandment of Chanukah lights extends until the passersby have vanished from the market.” (Shabbat 21b)

QUESTION: Why did the Gemara use an obscure way of measuring the time? Why not simply say “until ½ hour after nightfall?”

ANSWER: The terminology concerning the halachah can be explained as a metaphor conveying an important insight:

It is common for people to work during the day to earn a livelihood. However, some unfortunately, are so engaged in materialism that they “moonlight” on another job and work nights to reach their financial goals. Often this pseudo-success is at the cost of their Torah learning, davening with a minyan, etc.

It was the goal of the Syrian-Greeks to cause the Jews to forget Torah and to cease the observance of Hashem’s statutes.

The miracle with the flask of oil and the kindling of the Menorah emphasizes the importance of Torah study and mitzvot performance. The candles of the Menorah and the light it emanates represent Torah and mitzvot, as King Shlomo says “For the candle is a mitzvah and Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23). The Gemara (Megillah 16b) says that “orah” — “light” — means Torah. The pure oil miraculously found is also a hint to Torah, as the Gemara (Berachot 57a) says, “One who sees olive oil in a dream can anticipate receiving the light of Torah.”

The halachah conveys the message that one can be said to have properly fulfilled the essence of Chanukah only when he comes to the realization that “tichleh regel min hashuk” — his “foot” should not be roaming around in the evening in the marketplace seeking opportunities for material gain; rather after a day’s work his feet should be leading him in the direction of the shul and Beit Midrash to study Torah and pray with a minyan.

One should always remember that excessive involvement in business does not make one successful. Rather Hashem is the one who provides each of us with our “flask of oil,” and success can come miraculously without working tirelessly day and night.

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר בשם ר' משה ליב זצ"ל מ'סאסוב)

* * *

A chasid of Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneersohn (the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe), went into the business of producing overshoes. It was soon apparent that his mind was more preoccupied with business matters than the observance of Torah and mitzvot. Once, when he visited Lubavitch, the Rebbe said to him, “Feet enveloped in overshoes are commonplace, but imagine a ‘head’ sunk in overshoes!”

"כבתה אין זקוק לה"
“If the Chanukah lights became extinguished, one is not obliged to rekindle it.” (Shabbat 21b)

QUESTION: The kindling of the Chanukah lights commemorates the miracle of the Hasmonean’s candle lighting in the Beit Hamikdash and is the main mitzvah of the festival; Wouldn’t it be logical that one should be obligated to rekindle any of the lights which are extinguished?

ANSWER: The Syrian-Greeks’ primary intent was to abolish the study of Torah so that Jews and non-Jews alike should engage only in secular studies.

With the halachah concerning the extinguishing of the light the Sages are conveying a very important lesson regarding the superiority of Torah study over all secular studies.

When a person studies a secular subject for a period of time and afterwards realizes that his comprehension was faulty, or the conclusion he sought to derive from his theories on the subject matter is incorrect and unfounded, he is greatly disappointed and considers his time wasted.

Torah study, however, is not the same. If one spends much time trying to comprehend a piece of Gemara and in the end cannot figure it out, or if one tries to draw certain conclusions from a Torah subject and afterwards realizes that he erred, the time spent is not wasted, and he receives Heavenly reward for the mitzvah of Talmud Torah — his studying of Torah.

Celebrating Chanukah with the kindling of lights, emphasizes the importance of Torah study, which is compared to light. This halachah about the light teaches us that if one studied Torah diligently and at the end it extinguished — i.e. he didn’t properly understand it or was in error — the rule is not that he receives no reward till he rekindles it, i.e. studies the subject again and comprehends it properly — rather he gets Heavenly reward for all his time and effort.

The reward for secular knowledge comes from humans, and they give recognition only for accomplishment. Hashem’s reward for Torah study is primarily for the effort and toil and not for accomplishment. There is a popular saying, “Kudsha B’rich Hu chadi b’pipula d’oraita” — “Hashem rejoices when he sees people engaged in arguing and discussing Torah subjects” (see Zohar Vol. 2, p. 235a), regardless of the conclusions or whether the theories are right or wrong.

(בני יששכר)

* * *

In the prayer recited after completing a Gemara, we say that the advantage of Torah learners over those involved in worldly matters is that “We toil and they toil. We toil and receive reward and they toil and do not receive reward.” (See Berachot 28b.) This is problematic because every employee usually receives some sort of payment.

The superior reward for Torah can be illustrated with the following parable: In a big company there are many employees, from the chief executive officer to the blue collar workers on the assembly line. Usually the chief executive officer receives a large salary, and the blue collar worker often only gets minimum wage. While the blue collar employee on the assembly line puts in a full day with sweat and toil, the chief executive officer is often away on vacation or having a leisurely business lunch.

One may reflect on the injustice of it all: The dedicated employee should receive the generous salary while the chief executive officer should receive nominal compensation for his leisurely work. However, the fact is that the world recognizes and rewards accomplishment, not effort.

G‑d’s system of reward is the reverse. If one learns a piece of Gemara quickly and easily, he receives a smaller reward than one who spends much time and struggles with it. Thus, the famed adage: “G‑d does not count the folio pages, but the hours spent studying.”

"הדלקה עושה מצוה לפיכך אם כבתה קודם זמנה אין זקוק לה"
“The kindling principally accomplishes the mitzvah of Chanukah light, therefore, if it became prematurely extinguished, one is not obliged to rekindle it.” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 673:2)

QUESTION: What lesson can one apply to his service of Hashem from this halachah?

ANSWER: Many people have a tendency to refrain from undertaking something if they don’t envision themselves completing it or if they question their chances for success. Thus, they will not sit down to learn if they don’t have enough time to complete the subject.

This halachah teaches that this is an erroneous approach. It is the obligation of the Jew to do, and it is not the Jew’s obligation to accomplish. Hashem does not expect of us guaranteed success; this is up to Him. We must do our best; He will do the rest.

One must always bear in mind that “hadlakah oseh mitzvah” — principally, the kindling accomplishes the mitzvah of Chanukah — it is for us to make a concerted effort to accomplish; what happens afterwards is not our concern.

There is a popular saying: Adam oseh b’yadav v’Hashem mevareich ma’asei yadav” — “Man should do with his hands, and Hashem will bless the work of his hands.”

"שמן זית מצוה מן המובחר"
“Olive oil is the most preferable” (Orach Chaim 673:1)

QUESTION: Why is olive oil the most preferable for Chanukah candle lighting?

ANSWER: The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 36:1) says that the Jewish people may be compared to [olive] oil. Unlike all other liquids, which mix very well one with another, oil does not. It forever maintains its identity and will ultimately float on the top. Likewise, all the nations of the worlds mix with one another through intermarriage, and the Jews are forbidden to intermarry or assimilate with other nations.

According to the Gemara (Menachot 53b) Jews are compared to olive oil, because just as the olive gives its oil only after it is crushed and beaten, likewise, when Jews are, G‑d forbid, crushed and beaten, they do Teshuvah — repent — and their real glory comes to bear.

Thanks to the devoted Jews who refused to assimilate and accept the Greek ideology, Hashem brought about the salvation. Since they maintained their separateness, similar to oil, and went through an excruciating struggle for Torah and mitzvot, like the olive, Hashem made the miracle with the olive oil. To commemorate this we prefer to use olive oil for kindling the Chanukah Menorah.

* * *

In the book of Lamentations (1:3) the prophet Yirmeyahu says “Kol rodefehah hisuguhah bein hametzarim — “All her pursuers overtook her in narrow straits.” A Chassidic Rabbi, explained that “hisuguhah” — “overtook her” — comes from the word “hasagah” — understanding and comprehending. Those who pursue the Jews don’t really have an insight as to what a Jew really is and the inherent inner strength and conviction he possesses. However, all those who pursue the Jews, hisuguhah — get an understanding of what a Jew really is — at the time when the Jew is bein hametzarim — in difficult straits. The inner beauty of the Jew comes to surface and he prays earnestly for Hashem’s salvation. The gentile world is amazed when they behold that in troublesome times Jews cling tenaciously to their faith and will refuse to be detached from Hashem.

(ר' נפתלי זצ"ל מראפשיטץ)

* * *

There are some Jews who profess to be atheists. This is, however, only superficial, and in difficult times when they are being “crushed” their inner beauty comes to surface.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe told a story which he heard from his father-in-law, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. The Previous Rebbe related that when bombs fell on Warsaw, people ran to hide. One time a large group was gathered together: the Rebbe, average people, simple folk, and some who had thought that they had nothing to do with Yiddishkeit. When a bomb exploded close by, all of them together cried out Shema Yisrael..”!

It is difficult to attain something that will touch the soul-aspect of Yechidah, the very core of the soul. But when this does happen, whether under dire circumstances or in a pleasant way, even the lowliest and least worthy will cry out Shema Yisrael” with the same intensity as the very leader of Israel.

(לקוטי שיחות ח"ב פ' חוקת)

"נר חנוכה מצוה להניחה על פתח ביתו מבחוץ ... ובשעת הסכנה מניחה על השלחן ודיו"
“The requirement is to place the Chanukah light by the outside door of one’s house ... and in a time of danger he should place it on his table, that is sufficient to fulfill the mitzvah.” (Shabbat 21b)

QUESTION: What message does this halachah convey?

ANSWER: The word Chanukah is from the Hebrew word “chinuch” — “education.” The message of Chanukah is that one must go out into the street and illuminate its darkness. In other words, one must go out and educate the masses who are alienated to Torah and mitzvot. Simultaneously, a person should never forget about his obligation to educate and inculcate his own children with a love of Torah and mitzvot.

The halachah teaches us that even if it is a time of “danger” and one is unable to propagate Torah and Yiddishkeit publicly, he must nevertheless put the Chanukah light on his own table; i.e. he is never exempt from teaching his own children and family, imbuing them to live a Torah-true way of life, regardless of the difficulties or risks.

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר בשם עוללות אפרים)

"נר חנוכה שהניחה למעלה מעשרים אמה פסולה"
“A Chanukah light which is placed higher than 20 cubits is invalid.”

QUESTION: What is the significance of the number 20 in this law?

ANSWER: This halachah can be interpreted as a metaphor for the following:

In the Torah Hashem gave us 613 positive and negative commandments. In addition, over the years, the Rabbis added another seven making it a total of 620 mitzvot. In the Aseret Hadibrot — Ten Commandments (Shemot 20:2-14) — there are a total of 620 letters. Each letter represents one of the 613 Torah mitzvot and the last two words asher lerei’acha” (אשר לרעך), which have seven letters, represent the seven mitzvot instituted by Rabbinic ordinance.

They are as follows:

א = אבילות, the laws of mourning.

ש = שמחת חתן וכלה , the seven days of celebration for a groom and bride.

ר = רחיצה, the laws of nitilat yadayim — washing of hands before a meal.

ל = לחם, the laws of saying a berachah before eating food and also that breads and foods baked or cooked by gentiles are forbidden to us, even if there is no problem about the kashrut of the ingredients.

ר = רשויות, the laws added by the Rabbis regarding domains where it is forbidden to carry on Shabbat, and also the distance permissible to walk out of residential area on Shabbat.

ע =עמלק , the laws pertaining to reading the Megillah on Purim, and the other mitzvot of PurimHaman was a descendant of Amalek, and Purim commemorates the victory over him.

ך = כהנים, celebrating Chanukah with kindling the Menorah and reciting Hallel to commemorate the miracle of Chanukah, which was brought about through the Kohanim of the family of Matityahu.

The number 620 is also the numerical value of the word keter (כתר) — “crown” — and the 620 mitzvot are Hashem’s crown of glory. The Hebrew word “esrim” (עשרים) — “twenty” — numerically also adds up to 620.

To dispel the erroneous thought that some may have that Chanukah is not a mitzvah, but rather it is a national and social celebration, the Sages tell us in an allegoric way that placing a Chanukah candelabra “above esrim” (620) — i.e. to claim that it is not part of the 620 mitzvot which are part of Hashem’s “crown” — is celebrating Chanukah in a disqualified fashion.

(בני יששכר)

"ואם היה דר בעלייה מניחה בחלון הסמוכה לרשות הרבים"
“If one lives on an upper floor, he should place the light inside his house by a window that faces the street.” (Shabbat 21b)

QUESTION: Aliyah literally means an “attic.” Since this halachah applies to all upper floors, it should have said “komah gevohah”?

ANSWER: This halachah may be interpreted as an allegory: The laws of Chanukah teach us that one must go out and illuminate the “street” with the knowledge of Torah and G‑dliness. There are people, however, who consider themselves too prominent to get involved with unlearned or unaffiliated Jews. The Gemara (Sukkah 45b) describes some people as “B’nei aliyah — “people of ascent” (i.e. they have reached the highest level of prominence).

Thus, the message of this halachah is that one may live in an aliyah — he may be a very prominent person and it may, in his opinion, be below his dignity to be involved with common-folk. Nevertheless, he may not close himself up in his “ivory tower”; rather, he must make provisions that the holiness radiating in his home should influence the public domain.

(לקוטי שיחות ח"כ ע' 634)

"פתילות ושמנים שאמרו חכמים אין מדליקין בהם בשבת מדליקין בהם בחנוכה"
“[Concerning] wicks and oils of which the Sages said, ‘We may not kindle with them on the Shabbat,’

we may, however, kindle with them on Chanukah.” (Shabbat 21b)

QUESTION: Why is candle lighting on Chanukah treated with more leniency than on Shabbat?

ANSWER: Strangely, many people who do not observe the lighting of Shabbat candles, nevertheless, do kindle the Chanukah Menorah. How can this be explained?

According to the Zohar (III, 187a) the petilah — wick — is an allusion to the Jewish body. The oil is an allusion to mitzvot — good deeds. The Shechinah is compared to the flame of a lamp. The Shechinah does not rest on a man’s body, which is likened to a wick, except through good deeds alone, and it is not sufficient that his neshamah — soul — which is part of G‑dliness from Above, should act for him as oil to the wick. (See Likkutei Amarim, Tanya, ch. 35.)

This halachah teaches an important lesson regarding the strong influence that emanates from the Chanukah lights. Our Sages have said that petilot — the wicks — i.e. people who are not inspired by the mitzvah (oil) of kindling Shabbat candles, and thus avoid its performance, nevertheless may be inspired to kindle Chanukah candles. This mitzvah causes an awakening in them that they are members of Hashem’s chosen people.

(ר' מנחם מענדל זצ"ל מקוצק)

Perhaps this is a reason why the Lubavitcher Rebbe made such an effort for public Chanukah candle lighting and established a campaign that Jews of all walks of life regardless of affiliation or commitment should kindle Chanukah lights.

"נר חנוכה משמאל מזוזה מימין"
“The Chanukah light shall be on the left and the mezuzah on the right.” (Shabbat 22a)

QUESTION: Why mention at all about the mezuzah — the main thing we need to know is that the Chanukah light should be on the right side of the doorway?

ANSWER: According to Midrash Chanukah, because the Jews lacked in proper observance of mezuzah, the Syrian-Greeks decreed that the Jews remove the doors to their tents so that they should not be able to hide within the confines of their homes and perform mitzvot. This imposed upon the Jews the hardship of living a few years lacking privacy.

When the Jews were victorious over their enemies, they replaced the doors to their tents and also corrected the previous laxness in the mitzvah of mezuzah. Therefore, the Rabbis ordained that we should place the Chanukah light at the doors to our homes opposite the mezuzah, to emphasize our gain thanks to Hashem’s salvations and also to emphasize that our doorways have mezuzot.

(נר מצוה, ועי' אגרת השמד להרמב"ם פ"ב)

"נר חנוכה מצוה להניחה על פתח ביתו מבחוץ"
“The requirement is to place the Chanukah light by the doorway of one’s house from the outside.” (Shabbat 21b)

QUESTION: What is the significance of placing the Menorah at the entrance of one’s doorway to the street?

ANSWER: Chanukah is a preparation for the Messianic Age, when we will go out of galut — exile — and enjoy the most glorious time destined for the Jewish people (see p. 17). Placing the Chanukah Menorah by the doorway of one’s house from the outside is an expression of our eagerness and anticipation for the time when we will “go out” of galut under the leadership of King Mashiach.

"אמר רב הונא הרגיל בנר הויין ליה בנים תלמידי חכמים"
“Rav Huna said, “One who is habitual in kindling the [Chanukah] light will have sons who are Torah scholars.” (Shabbat 23b)

QUESTION: Instead of “haragil” — “one who is habitual” — it should have said “hamadlik” — “one who kindles”?

ANSWER: There are many Jews, who are meticulously Torah observant in the confines of their home, but who are afraid or ashamed to openly practice a Torah life in public. When they come among society, they do not proudly demonstrate that their lifestyle is in accordance with authentic Torah teaching.

The slogan of the early Reform movement in Germany was “Yehudi beveitecha ve’adam betzeitecha” — “Be a true Jew at home, but on the outside be a person like everyone else.” Similarly, Korach said of the Jewish people “Kol ha’eida kulam kedoshim” — “The entire community is holy” — “uvetocham Hashem” — “and G‑d is among them” (Bamidbar 16:3). He meant that the Jews were all holy since they all had G‑d “betocham” — “in their hearts.” He asserted, thus, that it is sufficient to be a good Jew on the “inside” without openly showing it on the outside.

The halachah regarding the kindling of the Chanukah lights is that it should be done “by the doorway of one’s house from the outside” so that the lights will be visible to the passersby on the street. Candles and lights are analogous to Torah and mitzvot, as King Shlomo said “For a candle is a mitzvah and Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23). Hence, the message of Chanukah kindling is that a Jew should not only follow the ways of Torah and mitzvot in his house, but rather proudly demonstrate on the outside in front of all passersby that he is proud to be a Jew who performs Hashem’s mitzvot.

“Haragil beneir” — “One who is habitual in kindling the [Chanukah] light” — means that the message of the Chanukah light has become an integral part of a Jew’s conduct and throughout the entire year he proudly portrays his allegiance to Hashem and love for Torah and mitzvot. When children see that their parents cherish Torah and proudly fulfill its precepts, they desire to know more about the things that mean so much to their parents. They eagerly study Torah, and this studying will ultimately make them into Talmidei Chachamim — Torah scholars.

(נרות שמונה)

"וצריכין להניחו (השמש) קצת למעלה מן הנרות שיהא ניכר שאינו ממנין הנרות"
“The shamash should be placed a little higher than the other lights, in order that it may be obvious that it is not one of the required number of candles. (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:14, Maharil)

QUESTION: Where is there a hint in Torah that the shamash should be placed higher than the other candles?

ANSWER: There is an expression in (Isaiah 6:2) “Serafim omdim mema’al lo.” The word “lo” (לו) has the numerical value of 36, which is the total number of candles lit during the eight days of Chanukah. “Serafim” means “the fiery ones,” a reference” that the shamashim that kindle the candles — “mema’al” — should be placed above — “lo” — the 36 candles.


* * *

A very important lesson can be learned from the shamash, which stands as a servant above all the other candles and yet doesn’t count in the number of candles. The shamash coaxes all the candles to life and then stands watch over them, lest one falter and require a fresh boost of light. It is an imparter of light to others, but it never attains the station of a Chanukah light in its own right.

Yet despite — indeed because of — this, the shamash towers above all the other lights of the Menorah, because there is no greater virtue than to forgo one’s own luminary potential in order to awaken a flame in others.