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Shiur #5: The Chanuka Menora and the Menora of the Mikdash

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash


Talmudic Methodology
Yeshivat Har Etzion


The Chanuka Menora and the Menora of the Mikdash

by Rav Moshe Taragin


Last week's shiur probed the degree of integration between the house and the mitzva of lighting the menora. 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 (the achsanai). 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 to light a menora in beit knesset - a site where seemingly no one lives.

The question of lighting in beit knesset was first posed by the 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 (a parity which last week's shiur gauged within Tosafot in Sukka 46a). Just as a beit knesset is excused from mezuza (according to many positions) since it is not a site of primary residence, similarly a beit knesset should be excluded from menora lighting - and certainly from reciting the berakha. His multi-layered response evokes two different approaches which will be elaborated in this shiur.

The first idea contained in his response suggests that we light the menora in the mikdash me'at (Yechezkel 11:16 recognizes a beit knesset as a miniature Mikdash in exile), just as the menora was lit in Beit Ha-mikdash. Indeed, the lighting in beit knesset is discrepant with the classic structure of the mitzva and its requisite criteria. However, it is performed to evince the memory of the original lighting of the menora in the Mikdash.

This view, that Chanuka menora eternalizes the menora of the Mikdash, 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 Hashem 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 (the tributes which are enumerated in parashat Naso). To console him, Hashem assured him that he would enjoy a unique mitzva in the Mikdash which would far supersede the tribute of the nesi'im. This mitzva would not only be performed daily in the mikdash 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 Mikdash.

The first halakhic expression of this identification appears in the commentary of the Ba'al Ha-ma'or to the gemara in Shabbat (21a). The gemara forbids receiving pleasure from or utilizing in any way the light of the menora. The gemara attacks the view that we should ban any use: "Do the neirot have any kedusha?" Apparently, the gemara explores other means by which to justify the aforementioned prohibition - endorsing the claim that neirot indeed possess no kedusha. The Ba'al Ha-ma'or suggests that the original prohibition (which was quite extensive in its scope) was indeed based upon an inherent kedusha within the lit candle/oil. This kedusha stems from the menora's status as hekdesh, 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 Mikdash. In fact, we allude to this condition during the singing of 'Ha-neirot halalu' when we exclaim, 'Ha-neirot halalu KODESH heim ve-ein lanu reshut lehishtamesh bahem' (These candles are HOLY and we haven't the 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 Mikdash would confer.

A second manifestation of this correspondence appears in a comment of the Ra'avad to the Rambam in Hilkhot Berakhot. The latter catalogues the different mitzvot and differentiates between the different syntax of their respective berakhot. Some berakhot take the form of 'al' (e.g. al akhilat matza, al mikra megilla), while others are recited as 'le-' (e.g. lishmo'a kol shofar, leisheiv ba-sukka). The Ra'avad comments that the berakha recited upon the menora is of the latter variety (lehadlik ner shel Chanuka) since this was the berakha recited in the Mikdash when lighting the menora. The desire to recite the identical berakha recited in the Mikdash indicates the attempt to recreate the lighting of the Mikdash within 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 entailed by lighting or by placing in the required zone (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 berakha 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 Mikdash. Ostensibly, the mitzva was performed by lighting the actual menora of the Mikdash and the execution of that act constitutes our mitzva as well.

Interestingly enough, a later commentator read into this association with Mikdash the exact opposite conclusion. The Anvei Nezer claims that the position of hanacha oseh mitzva (the placement entails the mitzva) is based upon the correspondence to Mikdash. He notes the Rambam, who claims that the actual lighting of the menora in Mikdash could have legally been performed by a non-Cohen. If so, the actual mitzva cannot be described as lighting, since this was not obligated of the Kohanim. Their mitzva took the form of 'hatava,' cleaning and maintaining the lit candles. Since the format of the mitzva in Mikdash was clearly not lighting, we cannot highlight 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 menorat Mikdash.

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


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 claim to require an actual menora upon the possible correspondence between our lighting the Chanuka menora and the menora of the Mikdash.