SALT - Parashat Miketz 5781 / 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
Motzaei Shabbat
            In the brief Ha-neirot Halalu hymn recited after the lighting of the Chanukah candles, which appears already in Masekhet Sofrim (20:6), we proclaim, “These candles are sacred, and we do not have permission to use them, but only to see them…”  This refers to the halakha forbidding making use of the light of the Chanukah candles, a halakha established in the Gemara, in Masekhet Shabbat (22a), and codified in the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 673:1).
            As a number of writers noted, the text of Ha-neirot Halalu indicates that this prohibition stems from the sanctity with which the Chanukah candles are invested, seemingly contradicting the Gemara.  The Gemara cites Rav as stating that the light of the Chanukah candles may not be used, and then relates that when Shmuel heard this ruling, he retorted, “Ve-khi ner kedusha yesh bah” – “Does a candle have sanctity?”  Shmuel dismissed out of hand the possibility of the Chanukah candles having any sort of halakhic sanctity on account of which they are forbidden for use.  The Gemara then cites Rav Yosef as responding to this challenge by explaining, “she-lo yehu mitzvot bezuyot alav” – this prohibition was enacted as a measure of respect to the mitzva.  Rav Yosef compared this halakha to the procedure for kisui ha-dam – covering with earth the blood of a slaughtered bird or undomesticated animal – which is to be done by hand, and not by kicking earth onto the blood, which would be disrespectful.  Just as the bird or animal’s blood clearly has no stature of sanctity, but should nevertheless be treated respectfully as it is used for a mitzva, similarly, Rav Yosef explained, we must treat the Chanukah candles respectfully by not making use of their light.  The Gemara thus explicitly states that the prohibition against using the light of the Chanukah candles does not reflect any status of sanctity – in direct contradistinction to our proclamation in Ha-neirot Halalu, “Ha-neirot halalu kodesh heim ve-ein lanu reshut le-hishtameish bahem” – “These candles are sacred, and we do not have permission to use them.”
            The Sefat Emet, in his commentary to the Masekhet Shabbat, suggests that Rav Yosef’s explanation of this halakha was presented only within the view of Shmuel, who outright denied the possibility of the Chanukah candles possessing any kind of halakhic sanctity.  Rav Yosef’s intent was to uphold Rav’s ruling even according to those who deny the sanctity of the Chanukah lights.  Rav himself, however, indeed acknowledged such a status, and felt that it is because of the sanctity with which the candles are invested that Halakha forbids using their light.  The text of Ha-neirot Halalu thus expresses the view of Rav, that the candles are indeed “sacred.”
            A different answer to this question is offered by the Sefat Emet’s son – the Imrei Emet (Chanukah, 5673).  He creatively suggests that when we announce, “Ha-neirot halalu kodesh heim,” this does not mean that the candles are actually endowed with sanctity.  Rather, it speaks of the unique sanctity of mitzvot performed with great mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice).  The Jews who led the revolt against the Greek persecution exhibited boundless devotion to the mitzvot, risking their lives for the sake of fulfilling God’s commands and preserving our Torah tradition.  The light of the Chanukah candles represents the spark of unbridled loyalty and commitment to God which the Greeks were unable to extinguish, even through their ruthless campaign to obliterate Jewish belief and practice.  The Imrei Emet thus explains the proclamation, “Ha-neirot halalu kodesh heim” to mean that the fierce religious devotion represented by the Chanukah lights are truly “sacred,” laden with spiritual force, and will sustain us even through the darkest periods and ensure our religion’s survival for all eternity.
            The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (21b) establishes that the mitzva of lighting Chanukah candles should be performed “mi-she-tishka ha-chama” – “once the sun sets.”  The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 672:1), based on the Tur, writes that this means the candles should be lit “im sof sheki’atah” – “with the end of the sunset.”  The Bach, commenting on the Tur, explains that this refers to tzeit ha-kokhavim – nightfall, when no sunlight remains on the western horizon.  The Vilna Gaon, however (cited by the Chafetz Chaim in Bi’ur Halakha), famously maintained that Chanukah candles should be lit earlier, at the time of sundown, noting that this was the position of several Rishonim, including the Rashba and Ran.  These different views account for the divergent customs that exist even today, as some light Chanukah candles after dark, whereas others light already at sunset.
            Rav Aryeh Tzvi Frommer of Kozhiglov, in his Eretz Tzvi (Moadim, p. 162), notes that according to the second view, the Chanukah candles are, ideally, to burn specifically during the period of bein ha-shemashot (twilight), the time in between sunset and nightfall.  The period of bein ha-shemashot is generally regarded as a time of halakhic uncertainty, as it marks the transition from day to night, such that it cannot be definitively assigned the status of either daytime or nighttime.  Therefore, generally speaking, we are to try to avoid performing time-specific mitzvot during this period.  For example, on Friday afternoon, we must begin Shabbat before sunset, given the possibility that bein ha-shemashot already marks the onset of Shabbat.  We must likewise recite the afternoon mincha prayer before sunset.  Mitzvot that must be performed during the day are fulfilled before sunset, and mitzvot that must be performed at night (such as the nighttime Megilla reading on Purim) are fulfilled at tzeit ha-kokhavim, after the period of bein ha-shemashot, in order to avoid this uncertainty.  The mitzva of Chanukah candles, according to the Rishonim cited by the Vilna Gaon, marks a stark exception to this rule, as it is optimally to be fulfilled specifically during the period of bein ha-shemashot, with the lights being kindled at sunset and burning throughout bein ha-shemashot.
            Rav Frommer suggests explaining the significance of this unique aspect of the Chanukah lights based on a famous passage in the Ramban’s Torah commentary regarding Chanukah (Bamidbar 8:2).  The Ramban discusses the Midrash’s comment that Aharon felt distressed over not having participated in the dedication of the Mishkan, when the leaders of all the twelve tribes brought special sacrifices to celebrate the event.  God reassured Aharon by pointing to the special privilege he had, as kohein, to light the menorah each day, and noting that this mitzva would endure forever.  The Ramban explains that the Midrash alludes to the miraculous lighting of the menorah by Aharon’s descendants, the Chashmonaim, after their victory over the Greeks, which is commemorated each year through the lighting of the Chanukah candles.  Whereas all rituals in the Beit Ha-mikdash ceased to be performed after the Temple’s destruction, the Ramban writes, the exception is the kindling of the menorah, which continues even in exile, as each year Jews light the Chanukah candles in commemoration of the miraculous lighting of the menorah during the time of the Chashmonaim.  The Ramban explains that this is how God reassured Aharon after the dedication of the Mishkan – informing him that the rededication of the Temple let by his descendants would result in the kindling of the menorah taking place forever, even after the Temple’s destruction.
            For this reason, Rav Frommer writes, the Chanukah candles are lit (according to some views) during bein ha-shemashot, the period in which day and night merge.  Our nation’s state of exile is often compared to the nighttime darkness, whereas the daytime represents the “light” of the divine presence in the Beit Ha-mikdash.  The Chanukah candles shine this light even during our dark exile, allowing us to perform and experience, on some level, the service of the Beit Ha-mikdash even as we endure exile and await our redemption.  It is thus appropriate to observe this mitzva during bein ha-shemashot, signifying the convergence of the light of the Shekhina and the dark of exile through our commemorative lighting of the menorah.
            We read in Parashat Mikeitz the story of Yosef’s brothers arriving to purchase grain in Egypt, where they ended up standing before the country’s vizier who, unbeknownst to them, was their brother, Yosef.  Without revealing to them his true identity, Yosef demanded that they bring his younger brother, Binyamin, who had remained back in Canaan when the others came to purchase grain.  As “collateral” to ensure their return, Yosef had one brother – Shimon – imprisoned in Egypt.  He told his brothers, “One of your brothers will be bound in your prison cell, while you go and bring food for your hungry families” (42:19).
            Rav Shlomo of Radomsk, in Tiferet Shlomo, comments that this verse might be interpreted as an allusion to every person’s efforts to “bring food” to their “hungry families,” to earn a livelihood.  During the long workdays, the Tiferet Shlomo writes, it might outwardly appear that we are disconnected from God, from Torah, and from spirituality.  Engrossed as we are in the demands of our professions, it seems difficult to link our work with our religious ideals, to maintain our connection to God during these hours.  In truth, however, even when we involve ourselves in the pursuit of a livelihood, the Almighty is – or should be – “bound” within “beit mishmarkhem” (literally, “in your prison cell”), within our inner beings.  Although He does not seem present in our mundane affairs, He is to be found deep within our minds and hearts even during the workday.
            The brothers returned from Egypt to Canaan without Shimon, but he was, certainly, in their minds and hearts all throughout.  Yosef’s intent, after all, in keeping Shimon with him in Egypt was to ensure the brothers’ return.  The brothers left Shimon behind but with a firm resolve to return to him.  The Tiferet Shlomo sees their feelings towards Shimon after they left him as an instructive model for our feelings towards the Almighty when we outwardly “leave Him behind,” when we are away from our inherently religious pursuits and tend to our mundane needs.  Although we might not have the same consciousness of His presence during such times as we do when we are involved in prayer, study and mitzvot, He must nevertheless be “bound” inside our minds and hearts even then, and remain a crucial part of our lives at each and every moment.
          Parashat Mikeitz begins with the story of Pharaoh’s peculiar dreams, and his frantic effort the next morning to find a satisfactory explanation for them.  After he consulted with all his advisors, without receiving an interpretation, the cupbearer told Pharaoh about Yosef, is fellow inmate when he was in prison, who correctly interpreted his dream as well as that of another inmate, the baker.  Yosef was promptly rushed out of prison and brought to Pharaoh.  He presented his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, whereupon Pharaoh appointed him vizier over Egypt.
          Rashi (41:12), citing the Midrash, notes the way the cupbearer spoke of Yosef when mentioning him to Pharaoh: “There was with us a Hebrew lad, a servant to the chief executioner.”  The Midrash comments that even when describing Yosef’s unique talents as a dream interpreter, the cupbearer could not help but speak derogatorily about him.  He emphasized that Yosef was a “na’ar,” which the Midrash understands as pejorative term, referring to a lack of intelligence, and that he was both a foreigner (“Hebrew”) and a slave.  The Midrash, as cited by Rashi, laments, “Accursed are the wicked, for their favors are incomplete.”  Even when the cupbearer hailed Yosef’s skills, he made a point of casting him in a negative light.
          The Midrash here perhaps points to the natural tendency we sometimes have to find something critical to think or say about people whom we find impressive.  When we reflect upon, or speak of, somebody’s special talents or qualities, we might feel threatened, at least to some extent, realizing that the person’s unique characteristics or achievements exceed ours in some way.  We might then be tempted to identify a negative quality which we can point to in an effort to defend our pride.  The cupbearer’s intention as he spoke before Pharaoh was, clearly, to extol Yosef’s special talents as a dream interpreter, but in so doing, he saw fit to describe him in unflattering terms, as he was unable to bring himself to feel unbridled admiration for Yosef.  We must try to avoid this tendency to qualify our praise for others with negativity.  We should indulge in praise unhesitatingly and without any misgivings, realizing that other people’s greatness does not in any way undermine our own accomplishments.  The cupbearer’s derogatory description of Yosef sets a model for us not to follow, and reminds us to always look for more reasons to praise and admire others, not for ways to qualify our praise and admiration.
The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 673:2), in discussing the obligation of lighting Chanukah candles, famously rules, “kaveta ein zakuk lah” – if the candles are extinguished after they are lit, one is not required to rekindle the lights.  As long as the candles were lit with sufficient oil (or wax) to burn the minimum required duration – generally presumed to be one half-hour – and under conditions which would normally allow it to burn for this duration, one has fulfilled his obligation, even if the candles were somehow extinguished before they burned for the required time period.
This halakha gives rise to an interesting question regarding the case of one who sees that his fellow’s Chanukah candles were extinguished before they burned for the required period of time, and he wishes to use the leftover oil for his own lighting.  We might intuitively assume that the oil belongs to the candles’ owner, and thus he has no right to use it, and if he does, he must pay the owner the value of the oil.
However, Rav Shlomo Yirmiyahu Greenberg of Ostrolenka, in his Minchat Shai (C.M. 8), writes that the person is, in fact, entitled to take his fellow’s oil.  He compares this case to the situation described in Masekhet Keritut (24a) involving a shor ha-niskal – ox which was sentenced to be killed after killing a person, which is forbidden for any sort of benefit.  The carcass may not be used for any purpose after it the ox is put to death, and even beforehand, if it was properly slaughtered after the court ordered its execution, the meat may not be eaten.  The Gemara states that if, subsequent to the court’s ruling, a pair of witnesses arrive and discredit the original witnesses upon whose testimony the court ordered the ox’s execution, such that the ruling is annulled, anyone may seize the ox and use it.  Once the ox was sentenced, the owner is presumed to have disavowed ownership over it, and thus even if the sentencing is then reversed, nevertheless, the ox is considered ownerless, such that anyone may legally seize it.  Rav Greenberg applies this ruling to the case of Chanukah candles which were extinguished within a half-hour of lighting.  One who lights his Chanukah candles, quite obviously, anticipates that they will burn for a half-hour, and thus implicitly disavows ownership over the oil.  Hence, if the candles are extinguished, the leftover oil is ownerless, and anyone may take it.  Rav Greenberg concedes, however, that if the candles were extinguished after they had burned for a half-hour, and some oil remains, others may not take the oil, because it cannot be presumed that the owner had not intended to use oil which remained after the candles burned for required duration.  Since he may, if he so wishes, extinguish the candles after they had burned for a half-hour, he did not necessarily disavow ownership over the excess oil.
            Rav Yehuda Leib Graubart, in his Chavalim Ba-ne’imim (3:35), disputes this ruling, challenging Rav Greenberg’s comparison between the case under discussion and the case addressed by the Gemara in Masekhet Keritut.  For one thing, Rav Graubart writes, if this occurred on any of the first seven nights of Chanukah, the person who took his fellow’s oil is certainly liable to pay its value, because Halakha permits using leftover oil for the kindling on the next night (see Mishna Berura, 677:17).  Clearly, then, on the first seven nights of Chanukah, one does not implicitly disavow ownership over the oil when he lights the candles, because he would want to use any leftover oil the next night.  But additionally, Rav Graubart writes, a number of halakhic authorities ruled that although one is not required to light the Chanukah candles anew if they were extinguished, nevertheless, one fulfills a mitzva min ha-muvchar (especially high standard of mitzva observance) by doing so.  (See Magen Avraham, 672:12; Mishna Berura, 672:27.)  Therefore, even on the eighth night, the candles’ owner might likely wish to light the extinguished candles anew in fulfillment of this mitzva min ha-muvchar, and for this reason, others may not take the oil.
            Yesterday, we noted the question addressed by a number of poskim regarding the legal status of the oil used for the Chanukah lights during the first half-hour after lighting.  We saw that according to one opinion, since one who lights the candles fully expects them to burn for the minimum required duration of a half-hour, he implicitly disavows ownership over the oil, as he does not expect to ever use it again.  Therefore, if the candles are extinguished within a half-hour, as Halakha does not require lighting the candles anew (Shulchan Arukh, O.C. 673:2), it would seem that anyone can take the oil, which is legally ownerless.
            As we saw, however, Rav Yehuda Leib Graubart, in his Chavalim Ba-ne’imim (3:35), disagrees with this ruling, noting several reasons why one who lights Chanukah candles does not implicitly disavow ownership over them.  Rav Graubart draws proof to this conclusion from the discussion in the Mishna (Bava Kama 62b) concerning the case of an animal transporting cargo which catches fire from a candle lit in the public domain.  Rabbi Yehuda rules that if the cargo caught fire from one’s Chanukah candles which were lit outdoors, as required, then the owner of the candles is absolved of liability, because he had placed his candles there permissibly, in fulfillment of the mitzva of Chanukah candles.  The majority view, however, disagrees, and holds the candles’ owner responsible for the damages.
            Rav Graubart observes that the very prospect of liability for damages caused by one’s Chanukah candles would seem to prove that one remains the owner over the candles after he lights them.  The Gemara in Masekhet Bava Kama (22a) brings a famous debate between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish concerning the nature of liability for damages caused by a fire which one kindles.  Reish Lakish maintained that “eisho mishum mammono” – one bears liability for damages caused by his fire just as he bears liability for damages caused by his property, such as his animals.  Rabbi Yochanan, by contrast, felt that “eisho mishum chitzav” – one who kindles a fire which ends up causing damage is akin to one who shot an arrow and caused damage to somebody’s property from a distance.  Whereas Reish Lakish views fire damage as similar to damage caused by one’s animals, Rabbi Yochanan views fire damage as indirect damage caused by the individual himself.  Rashi, in his commentary to Bava Kama, asserted that according to Reish Lakish, if one kindles a flame using somebody else’s materials, then he is not liable for damages caused by the fire, as liability for fire damage is rooted in one’s responsibility for his property.  If the fire one kindles is not his property, then, according to Reish Lakish, he is not held responsible for the damage it causes.  (Rashi implies that this understanding of Reish Lakish’s position is not accepted in the Gemara’s conclusion, but the Penei Yehoshua, as Rav Graubart cites, explains that this is, in fact, the Gemara’s conclusion.)  Seemingly, Reish Lakish’s view would mean that one would not liable to damages caused by his fire if he implicitly disavows ownership over it after lighting.  Since he does not own the materials at that point, he would not incur liability if the fire ends up causing damage.  Hence, the fact that the Tannaim debate the question of liability for damages caused by one’s Chanukah candles placed outdoors might prove that one retains ownership over the Chanukah candles after lighting them.  As such, if they are extinguished, the materials still belong to the original owner, and may not be taken by others.
            As mentioned earlier this week, the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 673:2) follows the opinion of “kaveta ein zakuk lah” (Shabbat 21b) – that if one’s Chanukah candles are extinguished, even before they had burned for the minimum required duration, he is not required to light them anew.  Although one must light the candles with sufficient oil to sustain the flame for a half-hour, and under conditions that would normally allow the candles to burn for this duration, nevertheless, if the candles are extinguished within this period, one has still fulfilled the mitzva and does not need to relight the candles.
            A number of writers raised the question of why this should be the case.  After all, the primary purpose of the Chanukah candles is to publicize the Chanukah miracle.  Seemingly, then, we would expect Halakha to demand ensuring that the candles burn for a meaningful period of time.  Why is one considered to have fulfilled the mitzva if the candles are extinguished immediately after they are lit?  Why does it suffice to light under conditions that would normally ensure the candles’ ability to burn for a half-hour, without seeing to it that they actually do?
            Rav Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro of Dinov, in Benei Yissaskhar (Kisleiv-Tevet, 3), offers a meaningful symbolic explanation of this halakha, based on the famous association between the lights of the menorah and Torah wisdom.  The Gemara (Gittin 43a) comments, “A person does not properly understand a halakhic matter until he has made a mistake in regard to it.”  Errors are inevitable in the process of learning and endeavoring to master and understand Torah.  The Benei Yissaskhar writes that when it comes to Torah study, no time or effort one invests is ever considered wasted or invaluable, even if mistakes are made.  If we exert ourselves to understand a certain subject, then even if our conclusions are incorrect, our efforts are nevertheless valuable, as long as we sincerely strove to arrive at the truth.  The Benei Yissaskhar suggests that this is the message conveyed by the halakha of “kaveta ein zakuk lah” – that one is not required to relight his Chanukah candles if they are extinguished.  Symbolically, this demonstrates that even if our efforts seem fruitless, even if we invest work that does not produce the kind of “light” that we wanted, we should feel gratified knowing that we fulfilled our duty through our hard work and dedicated efforts.  As we try to kindle the “light” of Torah and spirituality, we are bound to stumble and fail on occasion.  We are to draw encouragement from the rule of “kaveta ein zakuk lah,” which teaches us that our sincerity and dedication matter far more than the end result.  As with the Chanukah lights, we must work to shine the brightest light we can, without feeling disheartened or discouraged when the light is “extinguished” and our efforts do not produce the desired outcome.