Chanukah: to "Light" or to "Place"?

Friday, 8 December, 2023 - 11:17 am


Chanukah: to "Light" or to "Place"?

When discussing the Mitzvah to kindle the Chanukah lights, the Talmud seeks to define the precise definition of the commandment. The first opinion is: "lighting accomplishes the Mitzvah", meaning that the definition of the Mitzvah is the act of lighting. The second opinion is: "placing accomplishes the Mitzvah", meaning that the act of placing the candles in their proper place for the required amount of time (half an hour after sunset) is what defines Mitzva.

Multiple ramifications emerge from the query; here are two of them: 

(1) If the Chanukah candles were extinguished (before the required amount of time has passed), is a person required to relight them? If the commandment requires one to "place the candles", then he would have to relight the candles so the candles would be "placed" throughout the required time. If, however, the commandment is the act of lighting, it would not be necessary to relight the candles, for the essence of the Mitzvah, the act of lighting, has already been fulfilled. 

(2) if someone lit the candles in the incorrect place (not next to the door or window), and then moved the burning candles to the proper place, would he have to relight the candles? If the commandment is defined as "placing the candles", he would have fulfilled the commandment. If, however, the commandment is defined as "lighting the candles”, he would have to relight the candles in the correct place because the commandment, the igniting, must occur in the ordained place. 

After some discussion, the Talmud concludes that the defining point of the commandment is the act of lighting: 

From the fact that we recite the following blessing over the mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah light: Who has made us holy through His commandments and has commanded us to light the Chanukah light, the Gemara suggests: Conclude from this that lighting accomplishes the mitzvah, as it is over lighting that one recites the blessing. The Gemara concludes: Indeed, conclude from this.

On Chanukah, we celebrate the triumph of light over darkness. We celebrate the courage of the Jewish people who stood up to battle darkness. The Maccabees, who fought for religious freedom against the mighty Greek army, could not have known they would be victorious. The priests in the temple who lit the jug of oil on the first night could not have known that the miraculous would occur and the oil would burn for eight days. In a time of darkness, we don't necessarily see how our efforts will succeed in the face of the odds.

Nevertheless, the message of Chanukah is that regardless of the darkness of the night, we must do our part to ignite at least one candle. We must focus on illuminating our environment. We may or may not believe we have the power to achieve lasting transformation, yet we focus on what we can do. We focus on increasing light. 

After all, the defining point of the Mitzvah is not that the candle be "placed" - that we succeed in illuminating the darkness for the desired time. The Mitzvah is to light, to do our part. Doing so will, G-d willing, trigger and elicit miraculous blessing and success.    

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