Torah Thoughts: Parashat MIketz – Hanukkah 5779
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
Increasing Light – Increasing Holiness
This week we read Parashat Miketz, which continues the story of Joseph and his brothers. In addition, this Shabbat we will also be celebrating Hanukkah, so I would like to share with you a Hanukkah message in this Torah Thoughts.
How do we light the Hanukkah candles? We first light the Shamash (the “attendant” or “servant” candle). Then we say the proper blessings, and then, with the help of the Shamash, we light the appropriate number of candles for each night. On the first night we light one candle, on the second night we light two candles and so on until the eighth and last night, when we light eight candles. However, this way of lighting the Hanukkah candles was not the only one the sages knew. In fact, the Talmud registers the following discussion regarding how to proceed.
Beit Shammai says: On the first day one lights eight and from then on one continues to decrease, and Beit Hillel says: On the first day one lights one and from then on one continues to increase (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 21b).
Although both schools agree that a different number of candles should be lit each night, according to the school of Shammai one should decrease from eight to one, while according to the school of Hillel one should increase from one to eight. Today we follow the school of Hillel.
We may question what was the rational for each opinion. Well, this question was answered in two different ways by two later sages of the Talmud (ibid),
Ulla said: Two Amoraim in the West (the Land of Israel) disagreed [on how to explain this disagreement between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, namely] R. Yossi bar Abin and R. Yossi bar Zevida. One said: The reason for Beit Shammai was according to the number of days left and the reason for Beit Hillel was according to the number of days that have passed. And one said: The reason for Beiit Shammai was according to the number of bulls offered up on Sukkot, and the reason for Beit Hillel was that we increase in holiness and we don’t decrease.
The first Rabbi Yossi’s opinion explains that Beit Shammai counted the number of days left (including the current day), while Beiit Hillel counted the days that had passed, again including the current day. Both opinions here relate to the number of days of the festivals, the days that are left or the days that have passed.
The second Rabbi Yossi, however, adds a second set of reasons. Beit Shammai found a precedent in the number of bulls that were offered in the Temple on each day on Sukkot, which decreased from thirteen on the first day to seven on the last day. Beit Hillel applied a much broader principle, namely that holiness should only increase and not decrease. In Hebrew, this well-known principle is maalin bakoshesh veein moridin.
The four explanations are interesting and each one is well thought out. Out of these explanations I really love the last one, which states that we increase the number of candles lit every night because we should always increase in holiness and not decrease. During Hanukkah, when we try to add some light to our lives, we should also try to add some holiness. In the same way we increase the number of lights during Hanukkah, we should try to increase holiness in our lives.
May the lights of Hanukkah help us to add holiness to our lives, to be better human beings and better Jews, and to contribute our part for a better world.
Shabbat Shalom! Chag Urim Sameach!