Why Do We Need a “House” on Chanukah?
BY RABBI YOSEF ZVI RIMON
In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War – Chanukah 1973 – soldiers asked if they were permitted to light Chanukah candles in the field.
Rabbi Ya’akov Frank, grandson of the famed Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l, permitted soldiers living in tents to light Chanukah candles, but forbade soldiers in the field without tents from lighting candles with a blessing. Why?
Rabbi Frank’s ruling is based upon Tosafot, who write that a person who sees the Chanukah lights but is not able to light candles himself makes the following blessing: “Who has wrought miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this time” (Shabbat 23a).
This blessing is unusual and unique to the Chanukah candles. When it comes to other mitzvot, like shaking a lulav, there is no special blessing for one who cannot fulfill the mitzvah himself but witnesses another person doing so. Why is the mitzvah of Chanukah candles different?
Tosafot offer two explanations: 1. The Chanukah miracle is uniquely special, and so a blessing is made available even to those who do not light themselves; 2. There are people who do not have a house, and are therefore unable to fulfill the commandment of lighting Chanukah candles. Tosafot’s second answer is the basis of Rabbi Frank’s ruling. Without a house, it is impossible to fulfill the commandment of Chanukah lights!
The mitzvah of Chanukah candles is radically different from the mitzvot we fulfill on Purim. On Purim, we all gather in the synagogue and read the Megillah before a great audience. On Chanukah, however, each individual lights the menorah in his own house. Why is the mitzvah performed this way? Why is it necessary to light candles in one’s home?
Rabbi Ya’akov Moshe Charlop zt”l, a student of Rav Kook, explains that the lighting of Chanukah candles is meant to resemble the lighting of the candles in the Temple. However, as opposed to the Temple in which the kohanim are responsible for the lighting, on Chanukah we are all kohanim! On Chanukah, we all have the special merit to illuminate the world with the light of G-d. This is why we light inside our homes, individually; for we are all partners with G-d!
As a general rule, we light the candles at the entrance of our homes (Shabbat 21a). However, the Gemara adds that in times of danger we light the candles on a table inside of the house. Simply understood, we light inside the home because saving a life overrides all the commandments. The Ritva writes that it is permissible to light inside the home even if there is merely a risk of anguish or hatred.
Rav Kook, however, offers a deeper explanation. He explains that by placing the candles outside, we share the light of Torah, its commandments, holiness, ideas and values with all of mankind. There are times, however, when the world is not ready to receive the light we are trying to transmit. During these times of danger, when evil winds blow in the world, we hold on to our inner light and try to illuminate the light within our house, within our homes and families.
It is possible to take this one step further. In order to influence the external world, we must first build our own, internal world – our homes! We must first gather all of our inner strength before we can bring the light of G-d to the world in a profound and impactful way.
Let us strengthen ourselves by constantly guarding and preserving the light of Torah, by being meticulous about our observing the Torah and its commandments, and equally meticulous about maintaining high standards of morality and integrity. On Chanukah, let us act in a priestly way – not only remembering the kohanim’s role in lighting the candles and shedding light on all of Am Yisrael, but also elevating ourselves and illuminating our surroundings and all those who are near and far from us.
Chag Urim Sameach!
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is Head of Mizrachi’s Educational Advisory Board and Rabbinic Council. He serves as the Rabbi of Gush Etzion, Rosh Yeshiva of the Jerusalem College of Technology and is the Founder and Chairman of Sulamot and La’Ofek.