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S.A.L.T. - Parashat Miketz

  • Rav David Silverberg

Motzaei Shabbat

            The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (21b) establishes the well-known halakha that the Chanukah candles should be lit outside the entrance to one’s home, adding that “in times of danger, one places it on his table, and this suffices.”  Meaning, when dangerous conditions do not allow for kindling the Chanukah lights outdoors, in a public fashion, it suffices to light the candles inside, in the privacy of one’s home and one’s family.

            Many writers have suggested symbolic approaches to this halakha, that this law reflects a deeper message, rather than simply allowing for a secure option when lighting outdoors poses danger. 

 One such approach is that Chazal here instruct us to continue kindling the light of Torah and mitzvot in private even when we are unable to do so in public.  When conditions prevent Jews from safely observing their traditions in public view, they are still able and required to observe their traditions in the privacy of their homes.  They can “light the candles” of spirituality and faith even on their “table,” in the framework of their ordinary, mundane affairs.  The “light” of Torah “shines” not only in the contexts of public prayer and study, or in the external symbols and rituals of Jewish practice, but also in our “table,” in the way we conduct ourselves in normal contexts such as in the home around the table.  The manner in which we eat, the manner in which we act among our family members, the manner in which we shop and conduct our professional and commercial affairs, must be guided by the “light” of Torah no less than the way we pray and study.  And therefore when circumstances prevent us from “lighting” by the “doorway,” overtly displaying our religious devotion, we are nevertheless bound to continue shining the light of the Torah on our “table,” in our ordinary affairs that might at first seem religiously neutral, but in truth are no less vital a part of Torah life than the inherently spiritual endeavors.

            Too often, we forget about the significance of the “table,” of our ability and our obligation to kindle the light of spirituality inside our homes, in our ordinary affairs.  We tend to perceive Torah as a code of laws and values relevant to specific settings, rather than a way of life that encompasses the totality of the human experience.  Chazal therefore remind us in this halakha of the importance of lighting the Chanukah candles even inside the home.  The Chanukah story and the observance of this holiday very much relate to the public nature of religious observance – the Greeks defiled the Beit Ha-mikdash and insisted that Jews appear no different from them, and we celebrate through very public expressions of gratitude and joy.  Yet, Chazal made a point of adding that despite the public nature of this observance, we must never neglect the significance of one’s “table,” of the aspect of Torah life that affects the way we go about our normal, everyday affairs, requiring that we elevate them to a higher plane of refinement and dignity, and inject sanctity and meaning to all areas of life.


            The miracle of the flask of oil which we celebrate on Chanukah has often been viewed as a symbol of the other miracle celebrated on this holiday – the Jews’ unlikely victory over the Greeks and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael.  The Chashmonaim, who refused to surrender to Greek oppression, and stubbornly adhered to Torah observance and were prepared to fight to preserve it, correspond to the lone cruse of pure oil that remained untainted when the Greeks defiled the Temple.  And just as that small quantity of pure oil proved far stronger and more capable than it appeared, similarly, the small family of “pure” Chashmonaim succeeded beyond expectations, producing a flame that was able to banish the darkness wrought by the Greek oppression.

            We commemorate this miracle, of course, with the nightly kindling of the Chanukah lights.  The basic obligation, as the Gemara teaches (Shabbat 21b), requires lighting just a single candle in front of each home on each of the eight nights of Chanukah.  This single candle commemorates the single jug of oil, the small kernel of purity which has the capacity to shine brightly and overcome the darkness.  By lighting just one candle, we celebrate the miraculous power given to the small pocket of spirituality to triumph over the forces of darkness and kindle a flame that endures forever.

            If, indeed, this is the symbolic meaning of the basic obligation of Chanukah candle lighting, then we might perhaps wonder why Chazal instituted additional layers of obligation.  Common practice, of course, as codified by the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 671:2), is to follow the highest standard mentioned by the Gemara – “mehadrin min ha-mehadrin” – requiring the kindling of one additional light each night of Chanukah.  What is the meaning underlying these extra candles?  If the single candle required by the basic mitzva represents the miraculous potential of a single, small flame to illuminate far beyond its natural capacity, then why would we undermine this symbolic message by lighting additional candles?

            The answer, perhaps, is that Chazal wanted to warn us not to complacently rely on the supernatural potential of a single candle when we do not have to.  The “mehadrin min ha-mehadrin” standard teaches that as much as we believe in the power of a single candle, we must nevertheless light as many candles as we can.  We cannot willfully lower our standards of religious commitment, feeling content with the single “candle,” with the small amount of spiritual “light” that we produce, and confident in its ability to burn continually.  Our belief in the capacity of single jug of oil must not allow us to accept such a reality as optimal.  We are to kindle as many lights as we can, strive to elevate ourselves, our families and our communities one day at a time, and work to shine the light of Torah and mitzvot as brightly as possible, rather than allow the great miracle of Chanukah to mislead us into lowering our standards and feel assured with the small flame of just a single candle.


            The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (21a-b) cites a famous debate among the Amoraim as to whether the Chanukah lights are subject to the same specifications as the weekly Shabbat candles.  Chazal forbade the use of certain oils and wicks for the weekly Shabbat candle lighting, as those oils and wicks produce an unsteady flame, and thus one might forgetfully tilt the lamp on Shabbat when the candle flickers, in violation of Shabbat.  According to Rav Huna, these materials may not be used for the Chanukah lights, either, since the candle might be extinguished before burning the requisite period.  The accepted opinion (Shulchan Arukh, O.C. 673:1), however, that of Rav, permits the use of these wicks and oils for the Chanukah candles, despite the possibility that the candles might be extinguished.  The Gemara explains that according to Rav, Halakha does not require one to rekindle the Chanukah lights if they are extinguished.  In his view, therefore, it does not concern us if the candles are extinguished at some point after they are lit, since the obligation was fulfilled already by their kindling.  Rav Huna, however, maintained that one must rekindle Chanukah lights that were extinguished, and he therefore requires lighting with oils and wicks that produce a steady, reliable flame that has little possibility of being extinguished, lest one neglect to rekindle an extinguished flame.

            The Penei Yehoshua comments that even Rav Huna would permit kindling with the disqualified oils and wicks when other materials are not available.  Since Chazal disqualified these materials only as a safeguard, to protect against the possibility of the lights being extinguished and the individual neglecting to rekindle them, this provision should not apply at the expense of the mitzva’s fulfillment.  Therefore, if one finds himself with only candles and wicks which are – in Rav Huna’s view – disqualified for use, Rav Huna would permit, and presumably require, the individual to light the candles with these materials.

            While the Penei Yehoshua’s remark may, at first, seem perfectly reasonable and intuitive, this issue may, in truth, be more complex.  Rav Natan Gestetner, in his Natan Piryo – Chanukah (p. 3), raises the possibility that the Penei Yehoshua’s claim may hinge on an interesting question regarding the recitation of the nighttime Shema.  Torah law allows fulfilling the nighttime Shema obligation anytime during the night, but Chazal required reciting the text before midnight (as defined by Halakha), as a safeguard against forgetting to fulfill the obligation.  Rabbenu Yona (Berakhot 2a), surprisingly, posits that one who did not recite Shema before midnight can no longer fulfill the obligation.  Although the person is still bound by the Torah obligation to read Shema, nevertheless, the Sages have the authority to suspend this Torah obligation for the sake of enforcing their safeguard.  The Sha’agat Aryeh (4) disagrees, claiming that one should not forfeit the Torah obligation of Shema just because he failed to abide by Chazal’s provision.  Seemingly, Rav Gestetner suggests, this debate would affect the case addressed by the Penei Yehoshua.  According to Rabbenu Yona, we might assume that once Chazal forbade the use of certain wicks and oils for the Chanukah lights as a safeguard to ensure the proper performance of the mitzva, it applies even at the expense of the mitzva’s fulfillment.  And thus even if one has only these materials, he does not light the candles, since he cannot observe the mitzva as prescribed by Chazal.

            Rav Gestetner then proceeds to distinguish between one who knowingly or neglectfully failed to observe the rabbinically ordained requirement, and one who is unable to do so.  In the case addressed by Rabbenu Yona and the Sha’agat Aryeh, the individual failed to recite the Shema by the deadline established by Chazal, and it is thus perhaps for this reason that, according to Rabbenu Yona, he is penalized and not allowed to fulfill the mitzva afterward.  In the case discussed by the Penei Yehoshua, however, the person finds himself without the materials required by Chazal, and has entered this situation for no fault of his own.  In this instance, Rav Gestetner suggests, even Rabbenu Yona would agree that the individual should light the Chanukah candles with the forbidden materials, rather than forfeit the mitzva altogether.  However, if he has suitable oil and wicks, but for whatever reason lit with the disqualified materials, then, according to Rabbenu Yona, he has not fulfilled the mitzva at all, and must light again afterward with the acceptable materials. 

            Rav Gestetner then addresses the intriguing case where one had only the disqualified materials, but after lighting the candles with these materials, he obtains suitable oil and wicks.  One could argue that in this case, since the person lit properly given the circumstances, he has fulfilled the mitzva and would not then be required to light again when he receives the proper materials.  Although Rav Gestetner advances this argument, he leaves the question unresolved, acknowledging the possibility that the individual in this case would be required to perform the mitzva anew with the proper oil and wicks.

            We must emphasize that this entire discussion relates to the position of Rav Huna, who requires using for Chanukah candles only those oils and wicks which are suitable for Shabbat candles.  The accepted halakha, as mentioned, does not follow this view.


            Yesterday, we noted that according to the accepted halakha (Shulchan Arukh, O.C. 673:1), all wicks and oils may be used for kindling the Chanukah lights, including those which are disqualified for use for the weekly Shabbat candles.  Chazal disqualified certain oils and wicks for Shabbat candles because the light they produce tends to flicker, and the Sages were concerned that one might forgetfully tilt the oil lamp to improve the light, in violation of Shabbat.  The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (21a-b), as we saw, cites different views as to whether these restrictions apply also to the Chanukah candles, and according to the accepted view, they do not.  Therefore, even wicks and oils that tend to produce an unsteady flame may be used for the Chanukah candles.

            The Chiddushei Ha-Rim, cited by his grandson, the Sefat Emet (Chanukah, 5660), suggested an intriguing, symbolic dimension to this halakha.  He taught that this rule reflects the notion that, in the Sefat Emet’s words, “even those souls who cannot rise on the sacred Shabbat nevertheless experience elevation on Chanukah.”  The validity of second-rate wicks and oils for the Chanukah lights, despite their being disqualified for Shabbat candles, symbolizes the fact that even presently deficient souls, which, for whatever reason, have been unable to receive inspiration from the weekly observance of Shabbat, are capable of being stirred and elevated by the celebration of Chanukah.

            The obligation of Shabbat candle lighting is generally associated with the theme of serenity and contentment that features so prominently on Shabbat.  Different sources explain this requirement as intended to enhance either the sense of peace and tranquility in the home, or one’s enjoyment and comfort.  One of the primary aspects – and challenges – of Shabbat observance is stepping back from the rigors of the workweek to enjoy serenity and experience genuine contentment.  Whereas during the week we legitimately feel the need to exert effort to obtain our needs, on Shabbat we are to feel perfectly content and at ease, as though all our needs are cared for.  Just as God proclaimed with the onset of the very first Shabbat that the world is “very good” (Bereishit 1:31), we, too, are to look upon our lives each Shabbat as “very good” and experience satisfaction, regardless of the challenges we confront during the workweek.  The light of the Shabbat candles is intended to make the home feel comfortable and serene to enable us to enjoy true contentment and happiness which might be difficult to experience during the workweek.

            The Chiddushei Ha-Rim, in his remark, perhaps observes that not everybody is capable of receiving this kind of inspiration on Shabbat.  It is not always easy to suddenly “switch gears” with the onset of Shabbat from the tension and intensity of the workweek to the calm and tranquility of Shabbat.  Additionally, for many people, the home does not provide the kind of serenity and satisfaction that the home ideally ought to bring a person.  People experiencing difficulties at home will, understandably, not derive the positivity, hope and joy which Shabbat would optimally inspire.  The Shabbat candles, the aura of serenity that should fill the home on Shabbat, are thus not necessarily effective in uplifting everybody.

            For such people, the Chiddushei Ha-Rim teaches, joy and inspiration can be derived from the Chanukah lights.  The purpose of the Chanukah candles is not to provide illumination, but rather to broadcast to one and all the timeless message of the Chanukah miracle, the power of a small kernel of purity to withstand an onslaught of contamination, of a small flame to drive away thick darkness.  The small group of righteous Chashmonaim defeating the “darkness” wrought by the Greek oppressors symbolizes the power of a small bit of light and hope to prevail even under the direst circumstances.  Unlike on Shabbat, on Chanukah the candles are placed outdoors to broadcast this message publicly, because this message is universal and applicable to all people, even those currently in despair.  The Chanukah candles can inspire and uplift everyone, because their message is precisely that no “darkness” is impenetrable, that all it takes is a small “jug” of hope to restore optimism and joy.  The inspiration of Chanukah, then, is universal, affecting and elevating even those broken souls who are not yet ready to find comfort and serenity each week on Shabbat.


            In the final verses of Parashat Miketz, we read of Yosef’s brothers embarking on what they mistakenly thought would be their final departure home from Egypt.  However, Yosef, the Egyptian vizier, had ordered his servants to hide his royal goblet in Binyamin’s bag, and after they embarked, he dispatched his butler to chase after the brothers and bring them back on charges of theft.  After the butler accused the brothers of stealing Yosef’s goblet, they opened their bags and discovered the precious vessel in Binyamin’s bag.  Realizing they had been framed and would likely be severely punished, the brothers rent their garments (44:13).     

            The Midrash, in a fascinating passage (Bereishit Rabba 84:20), views the brothers’ rending of their garments as both a consequence of an earlier instance of rending, and a cause of a future rending.  The brothers were compelled to rend their garments, the Midrash comments, as a punishment for their having caused their father to rend his garments in grief after learning of Yosef’s apparent death (37:34).  And Yosef’s butler, whom the Midrash identifies as Yosef’s older son, Menashe, was punished for causing Yosef’s brothers to rend their garments in anguish by having his descendants’ territory “torn” into two parts.  As we read later in the Torah, half the tribe of Menashe settled together with the tribes of Reuven and Gad east of the Jordan River, resulting in the tribe’s split into two distinct territories.  This rupture, the Midrash comments, came as a punishment for the founder of this tribe’s having caused his uncles to rend their garments when he accused them of stealing from his father.

            The question arises as to why the Midrash appears to fault Menashe for the plot designed by his father.  Menashe was merely Yosef’s messenger dictating to Yosef’s brothers precisely what Yosef instructed him to say to them.  Why did Chazal hold him accountable for the brothers’ grief?  Why is Menashe criticized for executing his father’s plot against his brothers?

            The Tolna Rebbe suggested that Chazal perhaps cast blame on Menashe not for speaking the words he was commanded to speak, but rather for the way he spoke them.  Apparently, when Menashe charged Yosef’s brothers with theft as Yosef instructed, he did so with a feeling of vengeance and vindication.  To one degree or another, he felt satisfaction in avenging his father’s mistreatment at the hands of his uncles.  Rather than simply executing the mission his father assigned him, Menashe experienced a tinge of gratification in inflicting harm on his father’s brothers.  And for this he was criticized by Chazal.

            The Tolna Rebbe inferred from the Midrash’s comments an educational message regarding criticism and punishment.  Even when criticism needs to be expressed or punitive measures need to be taken, this must not be done with any feelings of joy or satisfaction.  We should never enjoy feeling superior when we express legitimate criticism, and we should never enjoy the feeling of punishing a child or student, even when the punishment is justified.  We must criticize and reprimand with genuine feelings of love, concern and empathy, without any feelings of joy over the emotional pain we justifiably find necessary to inflict.


            The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 672:2), based on the Tur, rules that after the Chanukah candles have burned for the minimum required period – a half-hour – one may extinguish the candles, or derive personal benefit from the light.  Although Halakha forbids making personal use of the candles during the first half-hour after they are lit, they may be used for personal benefit after they have burned for this period in fulfillment of the mitzva.

            As the author of the Shulchan Arukh himself notes in Beit Yosef (O.C. 677), this halakha seems to contradict the halakha noted by the Rosh (Shabbat 2:9) regarding the oil that remains in the lamps after the final night of Chanukah.  The Rosh cited the ruling of the She’iltot that this oil may not be used or simply discarded, as it is considered sacred, and it must therefore be burned.  This would seem to prove that the Chanukah lights are deemed halakhically sacred even beyond the minimum half-hour of burning, as the leftover oil after the eighth night is forbidden for ordinary use.

            The Beit Yosef suggests two approaches to reconcile these rulings.  First, he distinguishes between oil that was left over after the candles burned for a half-hour, which is entirely permissible for use, and oil left over when the candles, for whatever reason, were extinguished before burning for a half-hour.  The She’iltot’s ruling applies specific to this situation, where the leftover oil is oil that was to have been used for the requirement of kindling the Chanukah lights for a half-hour.  This oil is, indeed, sacred, and may not be used for personal benefit.  The Beit Yosef follows this approach in the Shulchan Arukh (677:4), where he rules that leftover oil that was needed for the minimum required period when the Chanukah candles were to burn may not be used for personal benefit.  The clear implication is that if the candles on the eighth night burned for a half-hour or more, the leftover oil is not forbidden for benefit.

            However, the Beit Yosef also cites a different view, that of Mahari Abuhav, who drew a different distinction – between one who placed oil in the lamps with the intention that the lamps should burn for only a half-hour, and one who placed oil in the lamps without such intention.  If one intended for the candles to burn for only a half-hour, then after a half-hour, one may derive benefit from them.  If, however, one prepared the lamps without any specific intention, then all the oil in the lamps is forbidden for personal use, and for this reason leftover oil after Chanukah is forbidden.

            Mahari Abuhav’s explanation gives rise to the question of why the extra oil is deemed halakhically sacred.  If only one half-hour’s worth of oil is needed for the performance of the mitzva, why is the excess endowed with halakhic significance?

            One explanation is offered by Maharim Shick, in his work on Sefer Ha-mitzvot (98).  He suggests that if one uses a large lamp for the Chanukah lights, then one enhances the mitzva by filling the cups with oil, which has the effect of producing a larger, stronger flame.  Therefore, even the additional oil is endowed with halakhic sanctity unless one specifically intends to sustain the candles for just the minimum required duration.

            Rav Asher Weiss explains Mahari Abuhav’s view more simply, claiming that he likely felt that there is value in having the Chanukah candles burn beyond the minimum required duration.  For one thing, Rav Weiss writes, it is possible that Mahari Abuhav refers to the custom to light Chanukah candles indoors due to the dangers entailed in lighting outdoors as Halakha optimally requires.  If one is already lighting indoors, then it stands to reason that pirsumei nisa – the publicizing of the miracle – is achieved well beyond the half-hour after nightfall when Chazal estimated that people are still found outdoors.  Since people are present and awake in the home well after dark, it is worthwhile to have the candles burn well into the night.  Therefore, there is value in supplying the candles with oil to burn for longer than just a half-hour, and thus this extra oil is deemed sacred.  And even if one lights outdoors, Rav Weiss suggests, it is possible that, at least in the view of Mahari Abuhav, one enhances the mitzva if he resides in a time and place when people are outdoors even later than a half-hour after nightfall.  For this reason, perhaps, Mahari Abuhav felt that even the additional oil, which sustains the candles beyond the period of a half-hour, is endowed with halakhic sanctity, as it facilitates the publicizing of the miracle, albeit beyond that which Halakha strictly requires.


            The Gemara (Shabbat 21b) famously establishes that although the Chanukah candles are meant to be lit outside one’s doorway, when this is not possible one may fulfill the mitzva by kindling the lights inside the home.  Indeed, for many centuries it was customary to light inside the home, and many continue this practice even today, when kindling outdoors is generally considered safe.

            Rav Yosef Engel, in his Gilyonei Ha-Shas (Shabbat 21b), raises the interesting question of whether one who lights the Chanukah candles indoors must extinguish them after they have burned for the minimum required duration of a half-hour.  When candles are lit in the home, one benefits from the additional light, and thus the kindling of Chanukah lights inside the home would appear problematic, as Halakha forbids deriving benefit from the Chanukah candles.  Of course, as Chazal themselves approved of fulfilling the mitzva by lighting inside the house, it is clear that one may do so despite the benefit that he necessarily receives from the enhanced illumination in the home.  However, after the candles have burned for the minimum required duration, and one has thus fulfilled the obligation, he would perhaps be required to extinguish the candles so that he no longer derives benefit from them.

            To present the counterargument to this conclusion, Rav Engel notes other instances where Halakha permits for the sake of a mitzva something which is ordinarily forbidden, even after the strict obligation has been fulfilled.  One such example is berit mila, which may be performed on Shabbat (if that is the boy’s eighth day), despite the prohibition against inflicting a wound on Shabbat.  Even in such a case, Halakha permits the mohel to remove not just the foreskin itself, but also the small pieces of skin that do not need to be removed for the circumcision to be valid (unless the mohel had stopped cutting before severing these pieces of skin).  Since these pieces are generally removed as an enhancement of the mitzva, their removal is considered part of the mitzva such that it overrides Shabbat.  Somewhat analogously, Rav Engel suggests, one may perhaps allow the Chanukah candles to continue burning and enhancing the illumination in his home beyond a half-hour, since this benefit was already permitted during the first half-hour.

            Rav Engel also notes the comment of the Sefer Yerei’im (117) that one may extend the shofar sounds on Rosh Hashanah beyond the length strictly required by Halakha, despite the prohibition against producing sounds on Yom Tov.  Since the mitzva of shofar requires sounding the shofar, one may elongate the sounds as part of the mitzva’s fulfillment. 

            Furthermore, Rav Engel notes, the Tosefta (10) discusses the case of a person who has shemen sereifa – oil of teruma which had become impure – and hosts a kohen in his home.  Shemen sereifat is to be used by a kohen as fuel for fire, and nobody may benefit from this fire unless a kohen is benefitting from it at the time.  Therefore, one who hosts a kohen in his home may light shemen sereifa for illumination or warmth, from which both he and the kohen benefit.  The Tosefta comments that the host in this case may allow the fire to continue burning even after the kohen leaves, despite the fact that he will be benefiting from shemen sereifa alone, without sharing the benefit with a kohen.  We might apply this ruling to Chanukah candles, as well, and conclude on this basis that one who lights indoors does not have to extinguish the candles after a half-hour passes, despite the benefit he will continue to receive from the candles.

             Rav Asher Weiss questions Rav Engel’s entire discussion.  For one thing, he writes, the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 672:2) explicitly permits deriving benefit from the Chanukah candles after they had burned for a half-hour as Halakha requires.  As we discussed yesterday, the Beit Yosef cites different views in this regard, and the Mahari Abuhav maintained that one may not derive benefit from the Chanukah candles even after they had burned for a half-hour.  The Mahari Abuhav makes an exception in the case of one who had initially poured the oil with the specific intention that the candles should burn for only this minimum required duration, but generally, the light is forbidden for use even after a half-hour.  Regardless, however, the Shulchan Arukh does not accept this view, and permits extinguishing and using the candles once they had burned for a half-hour.  Rav Yosef Engel’s entire discussion is predicated on the assumption that the Chanukah candles remain forbidden for benefit even after they had burned for a half-hour, in contradistinction to the explicit ruling of the Shulchan Arukh.

            Rav Weiss also adds another objection, which calls Rav Engel’s analysis into question even within the view of the Mahari Abuhav.  Rav Engel works off the assumption that the light of Chanukah candles is forbidden for all types of benefit.  The formulation of the prohibition, however, is not that the candles are forbidden for “hana’a” (“benefit” or “enjoyment”), but rather that it is forbidden “le-hishtameish” – “to use” – the light.  While it might be true that the Chanukah candles (at least in ancient times, before electric lighting) enhance the illumination in the home, this enhancement does not necessarily amount to “use” of their light.  Halakha forbids using the light of the Chanukah candles by doing activities such as reading and the like by the light.  Simply benefitting from enhanced illumination does not constitute “use” of the Chanukah candles, and thus does not fall under this prohibition.  Certainly, then, there is no question whatsoever that they candles may be allowed to remain burning in the home even after a half-hour.