Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Meaning of Hanukkah
To dedicate this lesson

A Light - Not Fight - to the Nations


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Tevet 2 5781
Most of us are familiar with the famous dispute over how to light the Chanuka lights. Bet Shamai says we begin with 8 lights on the first night, subtracting candles progressively until just one remains. Their rationale: We learn from Sukkot (which is also 8 days) when offerings in the Bet HaMikdash for the nations of the world were brought in descending order, from 13 to 7. The total of 70 offerings represented the entire world community.

Bet Hillel differs. They say we start with just 1 candle, and progressively increase to 8, because of the principle, "One should ascend in holiness, and not descend."

Beyond this Halachic dispute is a profound difference in world view, and in the concept of the Jewish People being "a light unto the nations." All agree that our mission is to serve as an inspiration to the world, helping fulfill Hashem's grand plan for all humanity through our pursuance of Torah and mitzvot, and our moral excellence. The question is how we do this.

Bet Shamai's strategy is to do battle against the alien, pagan forces around us, to use our flame to "burn away" any negative, corrupting influences like Greek philosophy or idolatrous worship. In this view, our primary goal is to work to decrease the other nations' sway and power, in an effort to minimize their effect upon us. This decrease is illustrated by the descending number of offerings brought for the nations and the decrease in lights, until just one - Israel - remains.

Bet Hillel has a different approach. Its strategy is to continually increase light to dispel the darkness, not so much by fighting others, but rather by raising our own spiritual level. By using our light not to burn, but to illuminate the Earth with Torah values, we create such brightness that evil - or the dark forces - automatically recede. The more candles, the more light; the more knowledge, the more holiness; the more Torah, the more Peace!

This lesson is a guiding light for us. Despite the effort we must make to combat anti-Semitism and its ugly partner anti-Zionism, there is no substitute for increasing our own light. For in the end, the Halacha is like Bet Hillel.
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