From Echoes of The Song of The Nightingale
Chanuka, The Rav's View
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The Talmud mentions that the very observant people celebrate Chanuka by either increasing the number of lights by one each night, beginning with one light on the first night of Chanuka and concluding with eight lights on the last night of Chanuka, in accordance with the view of Beth Hillel, or beginning with eight lights on the first night of Chanuka, and reducing the number of lights by one each succeeding night of Chanuka, until one light is lit on the concluding eighth night, in accordance with the view of Beth Shammai. (The Braitha actually states that there are three options: it is permissible to have one light lit for each of the eight nights of Chanuka; the more observant have a light for each member of the household throughout Chanuka; finally the most observant celebrate Chanuka either in the fashion of Beth Hillel or Beth Shammai as mentioned above. This is how Tosfoth understands the matter. Maimonides, however, in Laws of Chanuka 4:1, believes that the third category multiplies the number of lights used each night of Chanuka, according to the views of Beth Hillel and Beth Shammai, by the number of people in each household. Nevertheless, Maimonides points out that in Spain, the common practice was to begin Chanuka with one light, regardless of the number of people in the household, and conclude with eight lights on the last night of Chanuka, in accordance with the accepted view of Beth Hillel.)
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The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) mentions that there were two explanations for the differing views of Hillel and Shammai. One explanation is that Beth Shammai is influenced "kneged yamim hanichnasin" - by the number of days due to come. The first night of Chanuka eight lights are lit because there are eight days of Chanuka scheduled to come; the second night of Chanuka, seven additional days of Chanuka are due to come, and so on, until the last night of Chanuka one light is lit because there is only one day of Hanuka left. Beth Hillel, however, is influenced "kneged yamim hayotzi'in" - by the number of days due to leave. The first night of Chanuka one light is lit in realization that one day of Chanuka is about to pass upon completion of the day; the second night of Chanuka, two lights are lit in expectation that after twenty-four hours, two days of Chanuka are schedule to leave, and so on, until the last night of Chanuka eight lights are lit and we know that by the next night Chanuka will be gone. What kind of an argument is this queried the Rav, if we should celebrate Chanuka by the number of days coming or going?! I had known something about Chanuka prior to the Rav's lecture. Chanuka celebrates a miraculous event. The Chashmonoim, after defeating their foes, entered the Temple of Jerusalem and found one cruse of oil which had not been defiled by contact with the heathens and bore the signature of the high priest. This cruse of oil was poured into a menorah (according to the Bach it was a newly built wooden one). Ordinarily the oil would have burned in the menorayh for one day; instead it burned for eight days. Why did the menorah, the candelabrum of the Chashmonoim, remain miraculously lit for eight days, not more and not less? The Ran explained that it took the Chashmonoim eight days to go to the Galilee and return with a new supply of olives from which the oil was extracted to light the menorah. One Jewish philosophical view is that a miracle is actually a sign of the weakness of G-d in that He has to alter nature in order to be accommodating to our needs in some particular unusual situation. The miracle lasts precisely for the time that it is needed; not more and not less.
I turned to the Rav and said that evidently, according to Beth Shammai, the Chashmonoim wanted to renew the Temple rituals, and now that an undefiled cruse of olive oil had been discovered, they believed that by lighting the menorah with it, the menorah would continue to illuminate the Temple until a fresh supply of olive oil could be obtained, in 8 days. We light eight lights the first night of Chanuka in commemoration of what the Chashmonoim anticipated would happen - that the menorah would remain lit until natural means could be found to keep it lit indefinitely. According to Beth Hillel, however, the Chashmonoim were not that wildly optimistic. As the menorah supernaturally continued to be lit day after day, the wonder and gratitude commensurately grew. Our addition of one light daily reflects the growing wonder of the Chasmonoim as the menorah continued to remain lit, day after day or rather night after night, until eight days had gone by and a fresh supply of olive oil was available. "Correct!" was the one word of approbation that the Rav granted me. What I said to the Rav was much briefer than what I have recorded here for the sake of clarification. Essentially, I had guessed that according to Beth Shammai the Chashmomoim were exceedingly optimistic that the menorah would remain lit for eight days until it could be naturaly resupplied. For Beth Hillel, however, our observance of Chanuka is congruent to the growing wonder of the Chashmonoim as the menorah continued to shine miraculously in arithmetic progression for eight successeve days.
Now Rabbi Soloveitchik returned to the Talmudic text which offered a second opinion as to what Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel were arguing about and why Beth Shammai commences with eight lights and goes down to one and Beth Hillel celebrates Chanuka exactly in reverse and begins Chanuka with one light and finally progresses to eight. To understand this argument was not so difficult, and yet the Rav asked us for further enlightenment of the view that Shammai was influenced "kneged pri hachag" - by the fact that during Succoth the number of oxen offered went steadily down, and Hilel was influenced by the law "dma'aliyn bkodesh vayn moridin" - that in matters of holiness we go up and not down. Again the Rav challenged us to explain this opinion, and again I dared to do so.
On Succoth we know that seventy oxen were offerd in the Temple on behalf of the seventy nations that basically comprise mankind. On the first day of Succoth, thirteen oxen were offered, on the second day twelve, and so on until on the seventh day of Succoth, Hoshana Rabbah, seven oxen were offered, thereby reaching a total of seventy. Shammai, therefore, reasoned that we see from Succoth that if we want to reach a certain number, and we can attain it either by an ascending or a deschending order, we resort to the latter scheme. And so, if we want to commemorte the miracle of Chanuka, which ultimately involves a spread of eight days of celebration, we should begin with eight lights and gradually arrive at the lighting of one light on the very last night of Chanuka. Hillel was impressed by a general law tht in matters of holnes we resort to an ascending and growing pattern rather than turn to a descending and diminishing design. I was awarded with an additional "Correct!" and my heart was replete with gratitude to G-d that on this particular night I was the conduit that the Rav had used to illuinate us on the subject of Chanuka.
The Story of Chanukah
The story of Chanuka, the struggle between Jewish and Greek forces, was prededed by an inner conflict within Jewish ranks. Since the time of Alexander the Great, the Judeans had evaluated and compared the two ways of life - Judaism and Hellenism. Essentially, Judaism stressed justice and monotheism. Hellenism concerned itself with the concepts of beauty, pleasure, and naturalism.
The first of the three Greek aims was evident in their daily activity. The young men perfected their bodies in the gymnasiums for aesthetic rather than military considerations. Their gods were artistic masterpieces. The Greeks were creative in all the arts, and to this day their contribution remains fundamental.
Physical pleasure was the second Greek goal. True, some Greek philosophers like Democritus professed moderation. This approach was preached, however, in the realization that it afforded a maximum amount of pleasure. Excess eating and drinking, for example, could cause the deterioration of the digestive system and the consequent inability to partake of palatable delight.
The third aspect of Hellenism was the idea of naturalism. Greeks sought a natural rather than supernatural explanation of phenomena.
Since G-d was supernatural, the origin of the world could not be attributed to Him. Parmenides, an early Greek philosopher, therefore reasoned that the world was eternal, for a natural explanation does not account for something stemming from nothing or ever returning to nothing. Being could not come from non-being, he maintained, and what is cannot become what is not--hence the world had no beginning or end.
This type of thinking, carried into the field of ethics, led to disastrous results. It prepared the ground for a philosopher like Thrasymachus to say that justice was acting in the interest of the stronger. In other words, might is right, since there was no divine control of human destiny. As for the Greek religion, it limited itself to aesthetic experiences and pleasurable festivals. Plato describes how the greek deities ere considered to have the weaknesses of men. No moral direction came forth from Greek paganism.
Now that we comprehend the G-dless and pleasure-seeking contents of Hellenism we can understand what conrfronted Jewry in the days of the Maccabees. The Greeks had dominated the world since 300 b.c.e. and would rule the Middle East for the next two centuries. Many Judaeans in the land of Isreal saw their political masters as the ideal people. They were strong, gay, and indulged in pleasures of all sorts. The physical well-being and artistic feats of the Greeks were impressive.
The Jews who were captivated by the Greek cult and openly avowed assimalition were known as Hellenists. These Hellenists tried to Hellenize their fellow Jews. They resented the Temple worship which was the fortress of Judaism. Near the Temple, the Hellenized Jews built a gymnasium. They encouraged the youth to participate in boxing, wrestling, racing, and discus throwing. In Greek fashion, Jewish youth disrobed during the games. Some of the Temple priests were induced to join in the sports.
The Hellenized Jews ere very aggressive. They attempted to have one of their own men appointed as high priest of the Temple. When they met with resistance, they murdered, plotted, and resorted to vicious means of gaining control of the Temple. After years of connivance, they succeeded in influencing Antiochus Epiphanes to appoint Menelaus as high priest. Menelaus was not even a Kohen and certainly did not qualify as Kohen Godol (high priest). The Hellenists intended to deal Judaism a death blow. Now, they hoped, the Greeks would acept them as full-fledged citizens and no longer regard the Judaeans with hatred and contempt.
Menelaus, in order to retain his position, stole the Temple treasures, which he yielded to Antiochus. Rival high priests were ruthlessly crushed. The Hellenists, although achieving their ambition to control the Temple, were not as successful as they imagined. The Judaeans simply realized that the Temple was in the hands of the puppet of Antiochus and ceased to frequent the Temple.
Menelaus was now completely frustrated. He told Antiochus Epiphanes that Judaism was replete with hatred for humanity. When Antiochus was at war with Egypt, the Judaeans quickly ousted Menelaus after hearing a rumour that Antiochus had died in battle. When Antiouchus, however, returned successfully from his campaign in Egypt, he was furious at the disloyalty of the Judaeans. Suddenly, he attacked Jerusalem and destroyed its inhabitants. He entered the Temple, and with Menelaus as his guide, removed the golden altar, the candelabrum, and the golden vessels. Defiantly he blasphemed the Jewish G-d. When Antiochus Epiphanes returned from a second military adventure in Egypt, this time a fruitless and humiliating one, he vented his wrath on the Judaeans.
Now the people utterly despised the high priest. Menelaus, aware of the scorn of the masses, decided that their adherence to Judaism was the basic cause of their still not accepting him as their political and spiritual leader. He advised Antiochus to put to death Jews who observed the Sabbath and holidays, circucised their children, and kept kosher. Mothers and their circucised boys were seized and destroyed. Thousands of Jews who hid in caves in order to observe the Sabbath were found and burned. A statue of zeus was placed in the Temple, and the meat of swine was sacrificed before it.
It was then that the revolution began - distinctly out of protest against the suppression of Judaism. The aged priest Matisyohu led the revolt. The rest of the story - how the Maccabees repeatedly defeated the Greeks in battle and won Jewish independence and the right to freely practice the faith of their forefathers - is well known. What is not known is that the revolt was basically a religious one, and the Jewish assimilationists were responsible for our woes in those days.
If I remember correctly, the Rav lit his Chanuka menorah after sunset and did not wait for tzais hakochavim (the appearance of the stars in the sky), as the Magen Avraham assumes the view of the Shulchan Aruch 672:1 to be. Rabbi E. M. Block, in his book Ruach Eliyahu, mentions that the Gaon of Vilna would light his menorah after sunset. This, indeed, seems to be the obvious text of the B'raitha in Shabbath 21b, "mitzvotah mishtshka hachama" ("Its mitzvah commences with the setting of the sun"). And this is the view of Maimonides, in Laws of Chanuka 4:5, who states in no uncertain terms: "The candles of Chanuka are not lit before sunset; only at sunset - not earlier and not later!" The Mishne Brura computes the precise time for lighting the Chanuka candles to be about fifteen minutes prior to the emergence of the stars in the sky, which is "the begining of the second sunset."
If I remember correctly, the Rav used the large Sabbath candles for his Chanuka menorah and not olive oil, even though the miracle of Chanuka occurred through the medium of olive oil (please see the chapters on Chanuka). I imagine that the Rav's preference is simply based on the fact that the wax candles burn smoothly and reliably, as the Darkhei Moshe mentions in his comment on Tur, Orach Chaim 673.
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