We are All Kohanim on Chanukah!
BY RABBI YOSEF ZVI RIMON
After lighting Chanukah candles, we have the custom of reciting the passage הַנרֵּוֹת הַלָּלוּ. According to Masechet Sofrim, we recite it after the beracha לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל חֲנֻכָּה and before שֶׁעשָ ָׂ ה נסִ יִּם and שֶׁהחֶ יֱנָוּ.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach explains that from this passage we see that the purpose of lighting the candles is “in order to express thanks and praise,” an inherent part of the purpose of the mitzvah. Therefore, after the blessing לְהַדְלִיק , we say הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ, so that during the lighting we know to focus on the miracle of the salvation and on the triumph in the war (and since this is a fundamental part of performing the mitzvah, it is not an interruption between the blessing and performing the mitzvah).
However, according to the reading of the Tur, we say הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ only after lighting the candles, and thus rules the Shulchan Aruch: “After one lights, one should say: ‘These lights we kindle upon the salvations, the miracles, the wonders… .”’(הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ )
The Maharil explains that since reciting הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ is only a custom, it certainly should not be said in between the brachot, but only after the lighting.
The Approach of the Maharshal
Another approach is that of the Maharshal: after we recite the blessings, we light the first candle. We then recite הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ while lighting the rest of the candles.
This approach seems odd. If there is no problem of interruption, we could have said הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ before lighting the first candle, and if there is a problem of interruption, it would have been necessary to wait until after finishing lighting the candles!
One could indeed fulfill one’s obligation with just one candle, but there is hidur, glorification, in lighting multiple candles. The berachot must also involve the additional ‘glorified’ candles; one must not create an interruption between the blessings and lighting them.
How then does the Maharshal understand this?
It is possible that in his opinion, although one must not interrupt between the berachot and the beginning of the observance of the mitzvah, one may stop during the performance of the mitzvah for things related to the mitzvah.
Chanukah Candles and Mikdash Candles
It could be that the Maharshal’s approach is connected to something deeper.
The Shulchan Aruch does not mention the basic level of obligation for lighting (one candle per household) or even the mehadrin ruling, but only the mehadrin min hamehadrin custom. It turns out that the fundamental tradition of the whole Jewish nation has been the mehadrin min hamehadrin standard, and therefore the Shulchan Aruch does not bring the alternative customs. Why does everyone keep the mehadrin min hamehadrin standard specifically for this mitzvah?
There is a comparison between the Menorah in the Mikdash and Chanukah candles. One such comparison is tied to the holiness of the Chanukah candles and the prohibition of utilizing their light. The Rishonim explain that despite the fact Chanukah candles are tashmishei mitzvah, objects used to fulfill a mitzvah (which may be used for purposes other than the mitzvah itself), our Sages instituted that the Chanukah candles are like the candles of the Menorah and therefore they have a certain holiness.
In light of this (excuse the pun), we could say that by instituting the comparison between Chanukah lights and Mikdash lights, our Sages were implying that a person’s home is like the Mikdash, and that the person lighting them is like the Kohen. As a result, the mitzvah of lighting candles is not like any other personal mitzvah a person does in his home. It is a shared mitzvah which belongs to all of Am Yisrael, and it is certainly worthy to glorify a shared mitzvah!
Now we can understand the Maharshal. The reason for glorifying the mitzvah is the holiness of the lights and their similarity to the Mikdash, and therefore the most appropriate thing is to say הַנרֵּוֹת הַלָּלוּ immediately after the basic lighting and before the additional ‘glorified’ lighting, to explain why we are lighting the extra candles.
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is Rosh HaYeshiva at JCT–Machon Lev and Head of Mizrachi’s Educational Advisory Board.