Chanukah’s Golden Opportunity
BY DAVID REUBEN
As one walks along the streets of Israel over the eight days of Chanukah, the roads are illuminated by the bright lights of the chanukiot found in the doorways of each home. The chanukiah stands on the bottom left of the door frame, while on the upper right, the doorway is ornamented by the mezuzah.
The Talmud (Shabbat 22a) explains that the positioning of the chanukiah and the mezuzah indicate that we should be surrounded by mitzvot as we enter and leave our homes. But this explanation leaves us seeking more. What is the deeper significance to the placement of these particular mitzvot on the two sides of the doorway?
The halachah requires the mezuzah to be placed in the upper third of the door frame. Interestingly, the Talmud also teaches that our Torah study should be divided into thirds. “Rabbi Safra said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanina: One should always divide his study-time into three – a third should be devoted to Scripture, a third to Mishnah, and a third to Talmud (Kiddushin 30b).
Rabbi Safra’s teaching can inform our understanding of the mitzvot surrounding our doorways. The mezuzah, which is placed within the upper third of the doorway, corresponds to the first “third” of Torah study mentioned above – that of “Scripture” – from which the content of the mezuzah is derived.
The chanukiah, on the other hand, is ideally placed no higher than ten tefachim (handbreadths) from the ground – the bottom third of the doorway. This represents the final “third” of Torah study – the Talmud. The Talmud, which represents the Oral Torah more broadly, is constantly growing, expanding, and developing from one generation to the next, just as the candles of the chanukiah increase from one night to the next.
The Scripture, or Written Torah, consists of fixed verses dictated by Hashem that must never be altered by human hands. Appropriately, the Written Torah is represented by the mezuzah that remains securely fastened to the door and remains unchanged. The mezuzah is so “fixed” that even when moving to a new home, the halachah often requires us to leave our mezuzot behind.
This is not the case with the chanukiah. Although placed at the bottom third of the doorway and seemingly lacking in the loftiness of the mezuzah, the chanukiah represents the light of the Oral Torah, and the Divinely inspired ability of the Sages to deliberate and expand upon the Torah in each generation. It is no coincidence that the mitzvah of Chanukah itself is not a mitzvah d’orayta, a Biblical mitzvah, but rather a mitzvah d’rabanan, a rabbinic law. While the mezuzah contains text found in the Torah, the chanukiah contains no words. It represents the Oral Torah in its original form, an oral tradition passed on from generation to generation. Though it can be transmitted from one person to another, the Oral Torah is neither physical nor tangible. So too, the flame of a candle can never be grabbed in one’s hand.
As our families gather together around the chanukiah, we have a golden opportunity to teach our children about the precious gifts of the Written and Oral Torahs, the true foundations upon which our homes are built.
David Reuben is the Director of Programming at Mizrachi UK.