Chassidic Teachings on Chanuka: Is the Mitzva Kindling the Lights or Setting Them Down

  • Rav Itamar Eldar

Chasidic Teachings on Chanuka (2):

Is the Mitzva Kindling the Lights or Setting them Down?


By Rav Itamar Eldar

Translated by Kaeren Fish


     Among the laws pertaining to the festival of Chanuka outlined in Massekhet Shabbat, we find a central question:


The Sages asked: Is it the kindling [of the Chanuka lamp] or the placing [of it] that constitutes the mitzva?


Come and hear, for Rabba said: If one was standing and holding the Chanukah lamp, it is as if he did nothing. Thus, we learn that it is the placing which constitutes the mitzva. For a bystander, seeing him, would assume that he was holding the light for his own purposes [if he does not set it down].


Come and hear, for Rabba said: If one lit the lamp inside and then took it [to place it] outside, it is as if he did nothing [that is, he has not fulfilled the mitzva].


Now it makes sense if you say that the lighting constitutes the mitzva, and hence there is a need to light in the proper place [i.e., outside], and therefore this person has not fulfilled the mitzva. But if you say that the placing constitutes the mitzva, then why has this person not fulfilled it? [Because] here, too, an observer would conclude that he lit for his own purposes. (Shabbat 22b)


     The Amoraim here debate whether “the kindling constitutes the mitzva” or “the placing constitutes the mitzva.” Rashi explains the question as follows:


“Is it the kindling [of the Chanuka lamp] that constitutes the mitzva” – is the mitzva [of lighting the chanukiya] on Chanuka dependent on the lighting of the one who lights it, as is the case regarding the menora [in the Temple]?


“Or is it the placing [of it] that constitutes the mitzva” – and the main part of the mitzva is fulfilled by setting it [the chanukiya] down? (Rashi, ad loc.)


     The crux of the debate concerns the essence of the mitzva of lighting the chanukiya: Is the essence the act of lighting, or is it the fact that the chanukiya is in its place and creating light?


     The gemara notes two ramifications of this debate. The first pertains to a person who lights his chanukiya and then stands holding it, rather than setting it in its place. According to the view that “kindling constitutes the mitzva,” this person has fulfilled his obligation by virtue of having lit the chanukiya. However, if the “placing constitutes the mitzva,” then he has apparently not fulfilled his obligation.


     The second scenario concerns a person who lights his chanukiya in a place where the obligation to “publicize the miracle” is not fulfilled (inside his home), and then – once it is lit – he takes it and places it in an appropriate place (outside). According to the view that maintains that “kindling constitutes the mitzva,” the chanukiya must be in its proper place at the time of the kindling. Since it was not in this case, he has not fulfilled his obligation. If, however, the “placing constitutes the mitzva,” since he ultimately placed the chanukiya where it should be and it now stands there, it would appear that he has fulfilled his obligation.[1]


     This debate has further practical ramifications. If the lights of the chanukiya are extinguished prior to the proper time for kindling, must one re-kindle them, or is this unnecessary? We might argue that if “kindling constitutes the mitzva,” then there is no need to light again, since he has already fulfilled his obligation by lighting.[2] If, on the other hand, “placing constitutes the mitzva,” so long as the chanukiya has not yet burned for the amount of time that it should in the place where it should be, he has not fulfilled his obligation, and he must therefore light again.


     Chassidic teachings have sought to project this debate beyond the bounds of the laws of Chanuka to the broader sphere of mitzva-observance in general. In this shiur, we will attempt to trace this inquiry and then bring the discussion back to Chanuka, applying the insights we have gained to the halakhic issue at hand.


Kindling vs. Placing


     Beyond the question of the essence of the halakhic obligation, when we listen carefully to the actual words of the debate, we discern that there are two concepts here that reflect different, and perhaps even opposing, movements: “kindling” and “placing.”


     In the concept of “kindling,” we hear the living, vibrant, dynamic element of life. It speaks of enthusiasm, movement, change, and power. This is what makes life interesting, surprising, fascinating.


     In the concept of “placing,” we hear something that is fixed and static. This is the calming element, reflecting composure and introducing quiet and tranquility into the never-ending rat race of life.


     We encounter these two voices at every turn in our lives and in all of our relationships – between man and himself, between man and his fellow, between man and his wife, and between man and God. Human beings, depending on their natural tendencies and world-views, show a preference for one of these voices, giving it priority over the other. Some people seek to maintain the possibility of choosing between these two voices each time anew, while others want to adopt both of them but to place one above the other.


     The Chassidic masters listened to both voices, and they too – in accordance with their world-views and their inner tendencies – sought to guide and mold the inner dialogue between them with regard to the world of mitzvot. R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev[3] writes as follows:


“Blessed are You, Lord… to kindle the Chanuka lights”: Behold, it is well known that the essence of a person’s [Divine] service in prayer and Torah and the mitzvot is to arouse fervor in his soul and his heart towards God, with love and wondrous desire, through meditation upon God’s greatness – deepening his awareness so that his soul will feel fervor for God with sweetness, closeness, etc. As is well known concerning the joy of a mitzva – the main thing is to perform each and every mitzva with love and great desire and with tremendous fervor. And this is the meaning of the blessing, “Blessed are You, Lord… to light…,” in which we bless and praise God Who has chosen us as His chosen people, to perform His commandments with kindling and with tremendous fervor blazing from them. But sometimes, when a person’s heart and mind have become blunted, such that he is not able to perform a mitzva with fervor and desire, he should not refrain, heaven forefend, from performing it; rather, he should perform the mitzva in a state of “placing,” even if he has no fervor.


This is the meaning of the words of the Sifri, cited by Rashi in Parshat Va-Ethanan, on the verse, “You shall place My words.” He says: “Even after you are exiled, be distinguished by the mitzvot – continue to don tefillin, to place mezuzot, in order that these will not be new to you when you return, etc.” Meaning, you must perform the commandments even at a time of “placing,” when you have no expanded consciousness to act with fervor and kindling, etc. Nevertheless, perform the mitzvot. And this is the meaning of “hanichu tefillin” [“lay tefillin”] – even at a time of “hanacha” (setting down), perform the mitzvot of tefillin and mezuzot, etc., in order that they will not be new to you, etc. Meaning, in order that you will be accustomed to these attributes and they will not be new to you afterwards.


This explains the debate recorded in the gemara (Shabbat 22b), where one opinion maintains that “the kindling constitutes the mitzva,” while the other argues that “the placing constitutes the mitzva.” In truth, both these and those are the words of the living God; they mean the same thing and are not contradictory. Because in asserting that “kindling constitutes the mitzva,” we mean that ideally, a person should perform a mitzva with “kindling,” with fervor and wondrous desire. And when the other side states that it is the “placing which constitutes the mitzva,” it means that sometimes, when one falls from his level and no longer has an expanded consciousness, he should not therefore refrain from performing the mitzva, heaven forefend. Rather, he should perform it in a state of “hanacha” – meaning, even without fervor.


This is the meaning of the statement of the Sages: “For those who say that ‘the kindling constitutes the mitzva’ – if it is extinguished, he needs to re-kindle.” Meaning, ideally, when a person feels no fervor, he should exert his mind and intelligence to meditate upon God’s greatness, and through this he will arouse fervor for God in his soul, and then he will perform the mitzva with “kindling” and fervor. On the other hand, “for those who say that ‘placing constitutes the mitzva,’ if it is extinguished, he need not re-kindle.” Meaning, when a person falls from his level and is completely incapable of performing a mitzva with fervor and “kindling,” then he is not obligated to re-kindle – meaning, he should not refrain for this reason from performing the mitzva, heaven forefend; rather, he should perform it in a state of “hanacha,” without fervor. (Kedushat Levi, Perushei Aggadot)


     R. Levi Yitzchak addresses one of the great innovations of Chassidut, if not its greatest contribution: “That the essence of man’s service [of God] in prayer and Torah and the mitzvot is to arouse his soul and his heart in fervor towards God, in love and wondrous desire.” This principle is expressed in our observance of the mitzvot: “The main thing is to perform each and every mitzva with love and great desire and with tremendous fervor.”


     This enthusiasm, according to Chassidut, is what imbues the material act with its life spirit, in the same way that a body is animated by the soul.[4]


     Chassidut sought to “bring to life” the routine, regular service of God – whether in relation to the performance of mitzvot, the study of Torah, or prayer. Each of these areas, resting on the idea of fixed regularity, is in danger of settling into a situation of “rest,” which anaesthetizes the “intention of the heart,” the personal identification with the action and the focus of the entire personality – life, spirit, and soul – on the performance of the mitzva.


Chassidic fervor wakes the slumbering and raises the dead; it gives a person a new opportunity to participate in a romantic act which he performs with every physical and spiritual fiber of his being - to the point where there is not a single organ, emotion, or thought which is not included in that action, whether it be study, prayer, or the performance of a mitzva.


     R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, in the excerpt quoted above, seeks to view the debate in the gemara as raising an important question: What is the value of action that is devoid of fervor? What is the value of prayer without emotion, or Torah study which lacks the tremor of awe at engaging with God’s word?


     His approach seeks an integration of the two aspects, viewing them both as critical for religious existence. Before discussing this aim, let us first examine the two poles of the debate.


     The routine of life – even in the world of Torah and Divine service – leads to an “extinguishing” of the spirit that fans the flames of fervor. This faces us with the question: “If it is extinguished, must one re-kindle?” Are we obligated to re-kindle and fan the flames of fervor, at any cost? If I stand ready to pray with the sense of being “extinguished,” must I make my prayer conditional on fervor?[5] Am I required to devote myself to that dying ember, not resting until it once again flares up and sheds its illumination?


     The “kindling constitutes the mitzva” opinion seeks to argue that the mitzva cannot be performed without fire, without “kindling.” There is no value in an action that is not accompanied by “kavvana,” fervor, and cleaving to God. Therefore, says R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, “if it is extinguished, he must re-kindle it.”[6] If the fire of fervor has been extinguished, then before performing the mitzva, a person is required to labor, to seek and to find the flame that can re-ignite his inner enthusiasm for performing the mitzva – for without it, there is no value, no meaning, and no point in fulfilling the mitzva.


     At the same time, R. Levi Yitzchak hints in his words that the approach maintaining that “the placing constitutes the mitzva” tells us that the essence of the mitzva is its performance. Therefore, even in a state of “rest,” in the absence of fervor, even when there is no great desire, the mitzva should be done, and there is value in its performance.


     Focusing on the principle that “kindling constitutes the mitzva” alone may lead us to a situation in which entire days – even entire months – go by without any prayer, any Torah study, any performance of mitzvot, because we feel ourselves to be “extinguished” and avoid any action until we feel that the fire is re-ignited. Believing that there is no value to an action that has no inner fervor, we decide to devote all our efforts to that end: after all, “the kindling constitutes the mitzva”!


     If, on the other hand, we follow only the view that “the placing constitutes the mitzva”, we may find ourselves in a state of complacency and rest. “I’m okay,” this person tells himself: “I study, I pray, I observe mitzvot” – everything is fine. Everything is at rest! There is no need to make any effort beyond this. After all, “the placing constitutes the mitzva”!


R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev tells us that “both these and those are the words of the living God;” these two voices reflect a reality in which there is an ideal situation and a situation which is less than ideal, but nevertheless necessary.


A person must strive for “kindling,” but he must not make his Divine service conditional on it, since “placing” is also a mitzva. In the absence of “kindling,” in the absence of fire and enthusiasm, he must not turn his back on the mitzva out of a sense of “placing,” of static existence.


     In fact, R. Levi Yitzchak is warning those seeking a fiery religious experience that action devoid of excitement should not be scorned; it too has value. Admittedly, its value is lessened; this is certainly not the ideal. Nevertheless, these are not legitimate grounds for avoiding action. We must continue to work on our spiritual edifice, some layers of which reflect action that is devoid of any spark.


Fervor or Mitzvot?


     We began our discussion with this debate, placing it as the prism for clarifying the manner in which a person fulfills the mitzvot. However, it would seem that in the excerpts below, the debate occupies a more fundamental place, confronting us with the audacious and dangerous question of the relationship between fervent service of God that is woven out of experiences and inner sensations, on the one hand and service of God that is anchored in the world of action and mitzvot, on the other. The latter is a less glittering approach, but nevertheless one that is built steadily, layer upon layer.


     Accordingly, this is no longer a question of “action motivated by inner sensation and experience” vs. “action against a background of rest,” as described above. The issue now becomes experience vs. action, fervor and inspiration vs. conscientiousness and punctiliousness. It is this deep and dangerous abyss that we are cast into by R. Mordekhai Yosef Lainer, the Admor of Izbitze, in his work Mei Shiloach:


“The placing constitutes the mitzva, or the kindling, etc.” – It is written, “Your words are a lamp for my foot and light for my path.” “Path” is the general principles of the words of Torah, such as “You shall love your neighbor as yourself – that is a great principle in the Torah,” meaning that Chazal regarded this verse as including all of the commandments. “Your words are a lamp for my foot” – this means that for every detail of action and for every step, God must light [the way] for the person, and not to suffice with the general principle, since sometimes he might fail to understand a detail from the general principle, and end up making a mistake. This is the meaning of [the question whether] “placing constitutes the mitzva” – i.e., if the general principles which are set down and fixed are to be relied upon, and if he is to act in accordance with their guidance - or [whether] “kindling constitutes the mitzva” – i.e., that one should not rely on the general principle, but rather on what God illuminates for him for each detailed action. And this is the meaning of [the conclusion] – “kindling constitutes the mitzva” - i.e., the beginning of the light that God must illuminate for every action. And this is the Halakha. (Mei Shiloach, Shabbat, Ba-Meh Madlikin)


     The Mei Shiloach presents two different approaches, based on the verses in Tehillim (119:105), “(1) “Your words are a lamp for my foot”; (2) “and a light for my path.”


     “A light for my path (netiv):” The “path” refers to the “general principles of the words of Torah.” The world of mitzvot, made up of the Written Law and the Oral Law, sets before us a clear, systematic, organized, and orderly path. It equips us with a clearly defined map and compass. From the moment a person opens his eyes and is immediately commanded to recite “modeh ani,” to wash his hands, to recite the morning blessings, and to join a quorum for the morning prayer at the proper time, until the end of the day, when he lies down in a particular manner as stipulated in Halakha, he is guided and led by the light of the Torah in accordance with pre-determined laws and principles. This is the meaning of “netiv” - a route that is marked out in advance, requiring only that a person follow it. This is the idea of “placing constitutes the mitzva” – the path that is set in place and remains there, fixed and unchanging.


     “Your words are a lamp for my foot”: Along with the “path,” there is the “foot”. Here, the focus is not on the path, but rather on the step that a person takes. The road is paved, ready, and clearly defined, but it entails a series of individual steps; at each step, a person faces a challenge, a dilemma, and the clarity of the path is not necessarily of any help in taking the next step. “Sometimes, he might fail to understand a detail from the general principle, and end up making a mistake.” At this point one needs something that goes beyond a path or general principle. In one’s small steps, in the small details, he needs inspiration.


     In order to know the proper time for the morning prayer, one need only consult the path, the general principle, the light of Torah. But in order to know whether to accept a job offer or to refuse it, whether to marry a potential mate or to separate, even to decide whether to buy in one store or in other, a person needs inspiration. These bigger or smaller personal decisions, asserts the Mei Shiloach, will not necessarily be illuminated by the general principles of the light of Torah. This is the meaning of the principle, “the kindling constitutes the mitzva.” There is nothing that is set down in advance, and one needs to seek out the light, the “owner of the castle” who will peer out and kindle the light at this very moment, with individualized, special Providence that will reveal – right here and now – His hidden will, which is not visible and apprehended among the general principles of the mitzvot. This is the “candle” – the candle that lights the way for my foot to take the next small step. It is not a great, powerful light like that of the “path,” but it shines precisely at the next step that I am about to take.


     In this way, the Mei Shiloach reveals both the strength and the weakness of the world of mitzvot, both centered around the same point. This world is tradition; it is a fixed, safe road in which everything is given, everything is written, everything is decided. One who walks the road of Torah and mitzvot is assured of “rest” in this sense, rest and stability – but stability is also its weakness. A world that is fixed, static, and at rest does not always provide answers for experience, which is dynamic and in constant motion. The word Halakha means, literally, a way of walking, but this walking is not always suited precisely to the steps that a person takes. He might find himself taking a small, hesitant step that is entirely engulfed by the huge, confident strides of Halakha with no regard for its specifics, no concrete attention, none of the personal, intimate contact that the person needs at that moment.


     What voice will then guide him at this time? If Abbaye and Rabba, the Shulchan Arukh and the Rema are silent in the face of the step he is about to take – or, at least, if it is difficult for him to hear what they are saying – then to whom can he turn? At this moment, says the Mei Shiloach, he has no “light,” since he is not looking for a path. He is on the road, walking with clear knowledge of where he is headed – but right now his foot is about to take one small step, and the light of the path does not illuminate that individual step. He has no light – but he has a lamp: “The lamp of God is man’s soul” (Mishlei 20:27). It is the illumination of the heart, his innermost soul, that shines for him and shows him where to tread. This guidance is not something external to him, in the world of general principles and mitzvot. Rather, he finds his answer inside himself, in his own heart.


     This is not a great, powerful floodlight that looms and indicates the proper path, the rules, the law. But a lamp also sheds light – a small, steady light. And this lamp which lights up for man is not something which is “placed;” it is not set in advance, shining in an objective, detached manner. It is a lamp within man’s heart, actively teaching him knowledge and giving him insight.


     Moreover, it is no coincidence that this small lamp gives its light specifically when the great light of the path fails. “Of what use is a candle at midday?” The blazing light of the path, the paved road, the commitment to rules and principles which are known and dictated in advance, may sometimes cause the inner light – the word of God which beats inside a person’s heart, through the lamp at his feet – to shrink and pale. It is specifically when the great light of the path is darkened and the person armed with the rules and principles of the Torah stands helpless in the face of a changing, dynamic reality, that the tiny flame appears – that small cruse of oil – and lights his lamp. God’s word appears within him and guides him in his small steps: “And this is the meaning of [the conclusion] – ‘kindling constitutes the mitzva,’ i.e., the beginning of the light that God must illuminate for every action.”


The Mitzva as a Vessel for Fervor


We now return to R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who seeks to address the halakhic debate from the perspective of the question raised by the Mei Shiloach, concerning the illuminating inner light and the outer framework of mitzvot. He writes as follows:


Our Sages taught (Shabbat 22b), “The kindling constitutes the mitzva” – meaning that a person should approach his Divine service with fervor: this is “kindling.” There are those who are enthusiastic in their pursuit of empty matters, but a tzaddik, who is enthusiastic only in matters of sanctity, is called “placing,” since rest [i.e., something placed in a state of rest] is called the vessel into which he places his love, for by placing it in a vessel there is rest for the love which exists for that thing. This is what is meant by “the placing constitutes the mitzva” – that the kindling should have rest, that he should put his love into the vessel of enthusiasm for his service. And this is hinted to by the kabbalistic masters, who teach that “placing is the attribute of Malkhut,” for it is through his making the Creator King over this fervor that he has rest in his service of God. (Kedushat Levi, Derushim Le-Chanuka)


The “kindling,” as in the excerpt from R. Yitzchak Levi cited above, is interpreted as fervor – an inner fire of considerable power. This is a psychological state, an experience, an inner movement, which pushes man with great force towards action, towards Divine service, and towards the mitzva at hand. This sounds ideal. What more could a person want than a situation of fervor, enthusiasm, desire, will?


     The world of mitzvot – as it appears from this perspective – appears to be limiting, constricting, perhaps even suppressing and extinguishing one’s fervor. It consists of the minute details, requirements, boundaries, and limitations that seemingly place one’s enthusiasm and desire into a cage, preventing them from breaking through and flourishing endlessly. Seemingly, it is the “kindling which constitutes the mitzva.”


     However, at this point, R. Levi Yitzchak qualifies the fervor. While the Mei Shiloach reveals the weakness of the world of general principles and mitzvot as it emerges specifically from the advantage of that same world, so R. Levi Yitzchak seeks to undertake the same exposure of the world of enthusiasm and desire.


     The “kindling” is a movement of speed and power. This is its strength, but at the same time, also its weakness, for three reasons.


     First, because of its indiscriminate nature: “There are those who are enthusiastic in their pursuit of empty matters.” The great power of fervor lies in the absence of boundaries, the absence of circumscription, the lack of discretion. At the same time, this is also the first danger which indiscriminate, unrefined fervor will face. Great power, great desire, great longing are to be found in pagan ceremonies full of licentiousness and idolatry, no less than in sacred worship. A person who is filled with unrestrained fervor and desire faces many temptations that are likely to channel this raw power towards the murky territory of the Sitra Achra.


     Second, this fervor is transient. The power and strength of this enthusiasm lies in its eruption, the surprise with which it appears – and its weakness lies in the no less surprising suddenness with which it dissipates. The flame of desire is felt intensely – it burns brightly, up to the Heavens – but it is destined to fade away, to die down just as quickly.


     Third, as the gemara teaches, “sparks have no substance” (Shabbat 43a). A flame is ultimately less effective in creating warmth than a burning coal. A flame needs a vessel to give it substance and permanence.


     According to R. Levi Yitzchak, it is the action, the performance of the mitzva, which rescue the “kindling” from these three pitfalls.


     The world of mitzvot is able to filter, refine, and channel fervor. It has the power to direct fervor in the direction of sanctity, placing barriers that stop it from becoming a vessel for base desires, leading it instead up the rungs of sanctity and purity.


     The world of mitzvot also lends substance and permanence to transient fervor, transforming it from an abstract experience, a flame detached from the wick of life, to tangible power, with definition and impact.


     In addition, the world of mitzvot also introduces a dimension of eternity into one’s fervor, thereby preserving its effect over time even when the feeling itself subsides.[7]


     The “Malkhut” – the acceptance of the yoke of God’s Kingship – is the vessel; it is the dimension into which all the sensations, all the traits, all the experiences can accumulate. Without it, these experiences are not able to fertilize, bear results, bring growth, and endure.


     In addition, “Malkhut” requires of us the humility and self-abnegation[8] that keep us from becoming inebriated with the experience, sinking into our own selves and becoming blinded by the light that shines within us. We must momentarily abandon the panoramic heights to set the experience within the mold of the mitzva, into the world of “rest.” The moment we do this, we are relinquishing our own sovereignty in favor of God’s Kingship. When we are ready to give up the feeling, the experience, the wonder – then a different spirit will shine within us and we will unite that Shekhina, which dwells in us and gives us vitality, with the Holy One, blessed be He. We will unite “Yesod” with “Malkhut,” and thereby merit to build an everlasting edifice, a Sanctuary for God: “The placing constitutes the mitzva.”[9]


A Lamp for Each Person and his Household


     The tension between the inner and outer worlds, between permanence and dynamism, between the public sphere – the realm of reality guided by clear, well-defined rules set down in advance – and the private sphere – the home, man himself, the place where inner listening and inner kindling is made possible – is the essence of the festival of Chanuka. It is this tension which underlies many of the halakhic debates involving this festival.


     Chanuka is a festival of inward-turning, of Am Yisrael as a nation, of the family within the community, of the individual within his home. Is the essence of the festival that the chanukiya should face outwards, to the public domain, perhaps even placed outside of the home, or is the essence of the day reflected in the family experience of kindling, the inward-turning, the blessings, the songs and games surrounding the chanukiya? Is the essence of the festival captured by a family lighting a lamp for the household, or is it necessary that each individual kindle his own lamp and find his own personal stride within the general path of the family?


     Inside vs. outside, spontaneity vs. permanence, general rules vs. attention to one’s inner voice – all of these questions merge into the rhythm of Chanuka, causing us to listen closely and to distinguish the “placing” from the “kindling.” Through this movement, we illuminate our hearts, our homes, our nation, and the entire world with the light of God, which seeks pathways into the dark, wintry reality in order to reveal its dazzling splendor within it.

[1] The gemara ultimately rejects these ramifications, arguing that there is another factor - beyond kindling or placement – which in these instances influences the question of whether he has fulfilled his obligation or not. Nevertheless, the theoretical discussion still serves to put the two sides of the argument into clearer focus.

[2]  We might moderate this side of the debate by proposing that even if he has fulfilled his obligation through the actual kindling, there must be – at the time of the kindling – a sufficient quantity of oil to allow the chanukiya to burn for as long as it is meant to, even if it did not, in fact, burn for that duration (e.g., the wind extinguished the flames). See Shabbat 21b, where the gemara proposes a similar principle.


[3] The brief biographies of the Chassidic masters whom we will be quoting appeared in the VBM “Chassidut on the Parasha” series, (


[4]  “It would seem, then, that any teaching and mitzva which is performed without deliberate meaning is like a body without a soul” (R. Elimelekh of Lizhensk, Noam Elimelekh, Balak). The term used here is “kavvana” (intention), rather than “hitlahavut” (fervor), but in Chassidic terminology, the “kavvana of the heart” is the ability to be enthused and inspired by, and to cleave to, the light of the mitzva. The attempt to understand the spiritual reality that lies behind the act is what facilitates the enthusiasm and cleaving in the act. R. Shmuel of Sochatchov writes:

When the royal house of the Hasmoneans prevailed and were victorious over them, they took from them all their physical and spiritual power. Thus, although the Greeks had the power to darken the eyes of Israel, in terms of their minds and hearts, the opposite happened, and Israel rose to a very high level, and their eyes were illuminated and their intelligence became pure and clear. This achieved the opposite of the dullness and the defilement of the oil that had been wrought in the Temple, [bringing instead] the purification of the Temple, hinting at purity of the heart, to the point where holy vitality reappeared in it, with fiery, inspired Divine service – the opposite of the entry of the Greeks into the Temple. Both [aspects of this transformation] are mentioned in the wording [of the Chanuka addition to the daily prayers]: “Then Your children entered the shrine of Your House and purified Your Sanctuary” – in an act symbolic of the purification of the heart - “and kindled lights in Your holy courtyard” – using the pure oil for the light of the menora, in an act symbolic of the purification and refinement and clarity of the mind. Therefore, they instituted for all generations the [kindling of] Chanuka lamps, corresponding to the mind, and the utterance of praise and thanksgiving, corresponding to the purity of heart, since “words express the feelings of the heart,” and as these mitzvot are performed physically, so correspondingly there is a spiritual effect. And one who is wise at that time will take note of all of this, and will not suffice with the physical aspect of the performance, for performance [of the mitzva] without arousal of the heart and inner emotion is like a body without a soul. (Shem Mi-Shmuel, Miketz, Chanuka 7th night)

[5]  This pertains to a difference of opinion between the Rambam and the Tosafot as to whether a person who is unable to focus his thoughts on the meaning of his prayer should pray nevertheless.

[6] It must be noted that R. Levi Yitzchak associates the concepts of “kindling constitutes the mitzva” and “if it is extinguished, he must re-kindle,” while according to the plain text, the view that “kindling constitutes the mitzva” maintains that “if it is extinguished, he need not re-kindle” (as cited in the Rishonim and Acharonim; see Ramban, Shabbat 21a). Also, “The expression, ‘if it is extinguished, he need not re-kindle,’ means that there is no benefit in re-kindling, since the essence of the mitzva was the first kindling; therefore, the Sages do not require him to re-kindle…” (Sefat Emet on Shabbat 21b). This was the view noted above, in the beginning of the shiur.

[7]  Many years ago, I received a piece of advice from R. Koenig, the rabbi of the Breslov community in Tzefat: “Every time you experience fervor in your service of God, take on some new practical observance.” I was much younger then and did not appreciate the depth of this suggestion; it seemed to me a diminishing and belittling of the experience I was having. However, with time I came to realize that in this way, a person comes to adopt a lifestyle built on the impact and impression of all the spiritual experiences, all the fervor, all the longing for God which he has experienced over the course of his life.

[8] “The sefira of Malkhut has no essence of its own” (Zohar, part 1, 181a).

[9]  Perhaps this is the meaning of the teaching by R. Shlomo ha-Kohen Rabinowitz of Radomsk:

“Kindling constitutes the mitzva” – hinting that through the kindling of the Chanuka lamps, one ignites the light of his own soul. “God’s lamp is the soul of man” (Mishlei 20:27): the word “ner” (lamp) comprises the first letters of the words “neshama” and “ruach”, “nefesh” and “ruach.” “The placing constitutes the mitzva” – the word “hanacha” (placing) has the numerical value of 68, which is equivalent to “chayim” (life). This hints to “chai yesod malkhut.” (Tiferet Shlomo, Mo’adim, Chanuka).