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Why do we need a ‘house’ on Chanukah?


Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon

In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war – Chanukah 1973 — the were asked whether soldiers were permitted to light Chanukah candles in the field.

Rabbi Frank’s grandson permitted soldiers living in tents to light Chanukah candles, but he forbade soldiers in the field without tents to light candles. (and in fact, they would light without a blessing. Why? At times there is indeed a technical problem to light candles in these places, however, sometimes the problem can be solved by lighting inside cans and the like.) Why, if so, should they not light?

This principle also stems from the words of the Ba’al Tosefot, who wrote that the light of Chanukah embodies a special law of seeing. A person who sees the Chanukah lights (and does not himself light) blesses "Who has wrought miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this season" (Shabbat 23a). Why was the blessing on seeing certain things amended specifically by this commandment? Why doesn’t a person who sees someone shaking a lulav or someone who observes someone else fulfilling other commandments recite a blessing on seeing certain things?

The Tosefot offers two explanations why the blessing on seeing was amended: 1. There is a kind of favoritism to the Chanukah miracle, and therefore the blessing was specifically amended here. 2. There are people who do not have a house, and are therefore unable to fulfill the commandment of lighting Chanukah candles.

The basis for Rabbi Frank’s words is found in these words of Tosefot: without a house it is not possible to fulfill the commandment of Chanukah lights. They therefore amended the blessing on seeing for people who do not have a house, so that they too can participate in the Chanukah lights when they see them burning in someone else’s house.

Why is the fulfillment of the commandment on Chanukah different than that on Purim?

On Purim and on Chanukah we fulfill the commandment differently. On Purim we all gather in the synagogue and read the Megila before a great audience. On the other hand, on Chanukah, each one lights the menorah in his house (and it is customary to also light candles in the synagogue, but this is not the essence of the obligation, only a custom). Why, if so, does each person light in his house? What is special about the "house" regarding Chanukah candles?

The Menorah and the Temple

Rabbi Charlop, a student of Rav Kook, explains why there is a need for a house: in his opinion, the lighting of Chanukah candles is supposed to resemble the lighting of the candles in the Temple. However, as opposed to the Temple in which the priests care for the lighting, on Chanukah: we are all priests! On Chanukah we all have a special merit to illuminate the special light, to illuminate the light of G-d. The lighting is done within the house, similar to the lighting of the menorah in the Temple, however, it is done individually in each house, and enables all of us to be partners in this lighting.

In times of danger

Usually we light the candles at the entrance of the house, as ruled by the Gemara in Shabbat 21a. However, the Gemara adds that in time of danger we light the candles on the table in the house.

Why do we light Chanukah candles in a time of danger inside the house and not outside? The reason is simple: saving a life overrides all the commandments, and therefore it is not possible to elegantly fulfill the commandment of Chanukah lights as determined from the words of Rashi (ibid.) and the Tur (671). The Ritva (ibid.) wrote that even when there is no danger to one’s life, but there is risk of anguish or hatred – it is possible to light inside.

Rav Kook Z"tl also offered a profound explanation. The Rav explains that by placing the candles outside we share with mankind the light of Torah, its commandments, holiness and ideas and values which we are trying to disseminate to the world. However, at times, the world is not ready to receive the light we are trying to transmit, and in this case, in times of danger in which evil winds blow in the world, we hold on to our inner light and try to illuminate the light within our house, within our way of life.

We can add another idea (a similar one is found in the Sefat Emet on Chanukah). We want to disseminate a great light; we want to transmit our messages to everyone. However, in order to influence the external world, we need to first build our internal world – our home! We must first gather all of our inner strengths before we can go outside in a serious and profound way.

Let us try to continue elucidating our inner, spiritual worlds. Let us continue to strengthen ourselves by constantly guarding and preserving the light of Torah, by being meticulous about our observing the Torah and its commandments, and equally as meticulous about maintaining high standards of morality and integrity.

On Chanukah let us act priestly, by not only remembering the priests’ role in lighting the candles and shedding light on all of Am Yisrael, but also may we learn how to elevate ourselves, illuminate our surroundings and the people who are near and far from us, by offering and sharing physical and spiritual assistance.

Chag Orim Sameach
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