The Chanuka Menora and the Menora of the Temple

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur




The Chanuka Menora and the Menora of the Temple

By Rav Moshe Taragin


Last year's Chanuka shiur explored the degree of integration between the house and the mitzva of Chanuka candles. We posited that the mitzva might be considered a "chovat bayit" - not a mitzva which devolves upon the individual, but one which governs the nature of his house. One of the primary consequences of this position was the uncertain status of one who lodges outside his home on Chanuka. What type of mitzva may he perform outside the environs of his house? We witnessed that, at least according to one opinion in the gemara, the absence of a home residence inhibits him from the classic mitzva and mandates his paying money to his host to somehow participate in the mitzva THROUGH his host.

If this were to be true, we might reconsider the custom of lighting a menora in synagogue - a site where seemingly no one lives.

The question of lighting in synagogue was first posed by the Sefer ha-Manhig. This custom doesn't appear in the Gemara and apparently emerged during the period between the close of the Gemara and the early Rishonim. As a premise, he assumes the parity between menora and mezuza (see Tosafot, Sukka 46a). Just as a synagogue is excused from mezuza (according to many positions) since it is not a site of primary residence, similarly a synagogue should be excluded from menora lighting - and certainly from reciting the blessing. His multilayered response evokes two different approaches which will be elaborated in this shiur.

The first idea contained in his response suggests that since we regard the synagogue as a mikdash me'at (a miniature Temple in exile, based on Yechezkel 11:16), we light the menora in the mikdash me'at just as we used to light the menora in the Mikdash. Indeed, the lighting in synagogue is discrepant with the classic structure of the mitzva and its requisite criteria. However, it is performed to evoke the memory of the original lighting of the menora in the Temple.

This view, that the Chanuka menora eternalizes the menora of the Temple, is voiced by several other Rishonim within numerous contexts. The primary narrative source is cited by the Ramban in Beha'alotekha, who excerpts a midrash chronicling a discussion between God and Aharon. The latter was somewhat despondent at having missed the opportunity to participate in the inaugural tributes offered by the princes of each tribe (as enumerated in parashat Naso). To console him, God assured him that he would enjoy a unique mitzva in the Temple which would far supersede the tribute of the princes. This mitzva would not only be performed daily in the Temple, but would be feted during the miracle of Chanuka and would be performed eternally. This midrash clearly associates the lighting of our Chanuka menora with the original menora of the Temple.

The first halakhic expression of this identification appears in the commentary of the Ba'al Ha-ma'or (Shabbat 21a). The gemara forbids receiving pleasure from or utilizing in any way the light of the menora. The gemara then questions the view that we should ban any use: "Do the candles have any sanctity?" Apparently, the gemara explores other means by which to justify the aforementioned prohibition - endorsing the claim that candles indeed possess no sanctity. The Ba'al Ha-ma'or suggests that the original prohibition (which was quite extensive in its scope) was indeed based upon an inherent sanctity within the lit candle/oil. This sanctity stems from the menora's status as hekdesh, a sanctified Temple object, akin to the hekdesh status which the original menora and its oil enjoyed.

According to the Ba'al Ha-ma'or, the sweeping ban on using the menora evolves from its status as an extension of the original menora of the Temple. In fact, we allude to this condition during the singing of "Ha-nerot halalu" when we exclaim, "These candles are HOLY and we have no permission to utilize them for our own benefit." We attribute the prohibition to use the Chanuka menora to the holy status which it possesses - a status which only its association with the menora of Temple would confer.

A second manifestation of this correspondence appears in a comment of the Ra'avad (Hilkhot Berakhot 11:15). The Rambam catalogues the different mitzvot and differentiates between their respective berakhot. Some berakhot take the form of "al," ON the mitzva of x (e.g. al akhilat matza, al mikra megilla), while others are recited as "le-," TO perform the mitzva of x (e.g. lishmo'a kol shofar, leisheiv ba-sukka). The Ra'avad comments that the blessing recited upon the menora is of the latter variety (lehadlik ner shel Chanuka), since this was the berakha recited in the Temple when lighting the menora. The desire to recite the identical blessing recited in the Temple indicates the attempt to recreate the lighting of the Temple with our Chanuka menorot.

A third expression surrounds a discussion of the gemara in Shabbat (23b-24a). The gemara ponders the essence of the mitzva and raises two options - hadlaka oseh mitzva or hanacha oseh mitzva: Is the mitzva accomplished by lighting or by placing the menora in the required area (compatible with the aim of publicizing the miracle)? The gemara suggests various consequences of this issue: Can a minor light while the adult performs the ultimate placement? Should the blessing be recited as "lehadlik" or "lehani'ach?"

Rashi, in his comments to this debate, claims that the position of hadlaka oseh mitzva is based upon the dynamic of lighting the menora in Temple. Ostensibly, the mitzva was performed by lighting the actual menora of the Temple, and the execution of that act constitutes our mitzva as well.

Interestingly, a later commentator read into this association with Temple the opposite conclusion. The Anvei Nezer claims that the position of hanacha oseh mitzva (the placement entails the mitzva) is based upon the correspondence to Temple. He notes the Rambam's claim that the actual lighting of the menora in Temple could have been performed legally by a non-kohen. If so, the actual mitzva cannot be the lighting. The mitzva of the kohanim took the form of hatava, cleaning and maintaining the lit candles. Since the format of the mitzva in Temple was clearly not lighting, we cannot point to the lighting of our menora as the essential mitzva. Hence, we spotlight the accessory elements of the Chanuka lighting - namely the placement.

Rashi and the Avnei Nezer (based upon his understanding of the Rambam) reached opposite conclusions by establishing the identity of the Chanuka menora as a continuation of the Temple menora.

Based upon this identity, the Manhig tries to defend the custom to light the menora in the synagogue. If he is correct in this assertion, we might determine the location of the menora in synagogue based upon the precedent of the Temple. Much debate surrounded the location of the menora in synagogue. As the standard location near the door was no longer imperative (since the community which formed the audience of our lighting is located within the synagogue), placement became debatable. The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chayim 671) cites the custom to align the menora in the southern part of the synagogue in a north-south vector. The Taz notes that this arrangement is evocative of the location of the menora in the Temple.


An issue of interest surrounding this association is raised by the Avnei Nezer. He wonders whether it is necessary for a person to employ an actual menora or merely to light the requisite amount of candles. He bases his requirement of an actual menora upon the possible correspondence between the Chanuka menora and the menora of the Temple.




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