Compiled by Dina Fraenkel
Chanukah is universally known as the Festival of Lights, with the light of the menorah increasing on each successive night of Chanukah. In his discussion of the laws of Chanukah, the Rambam makes an important ruling: "If [a person has the means to perform only one of two mitzvos,] lighting a lamp for one’s home [i.e., the Shabbos candles] or a Chanukah lamp, the lamp for one’s home is granted priority, since it generates peace within the home…"1
Why does the Rambam explain the importance of peace when discussing the laws of Chanukah? Why not in the section dealing with the laws of Shabbos, the day of peace? The mention of Kiddush versus the Shabbos candles does not even pertain to the laws of Chanukah!
These questions can be answered by explaining the difference between the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash and the Chanukah menorah. The menorah in the Beis HaMikdash was kindled inside the sanctuary, while the Chanukah menorah is lit at the outside of the entrance to one’s home2. In addition the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash was lit during the day, while the Chanukah menorah is lit after sunset and burns into the night.
The menorah in the Beis HaMikdash was lit in a place where holiness was readily apparent, inside the Beis HaMikdash itself. In the Beis HaMikdash G-dliness was revealed openly, while in the material world G-dliness is concealed. Therefore, when the Greeks defiled the Beis HaMikdash all of the korbonos and related services, particularly the lighting of the menorah, were nullified. The kedushah was overshadowed by the tumah.
The Chanukah menorah serves a different aim. The Chanukah lights brighten our physical environment and light up the night (Golus). The Chanukah lights can overpower the forces of evil, as our Sages say: "The candles should burn until the feet of the Tarmudites depart from the marketplace."3 ("Tarmud" shares the root of the word "moredes" [rebellious one] and refers to the forces of evil.4)
Based on this special force inherent in the Chanukah lights, they have an aspect of holiness that can even surpass the lights of the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash. The lights of the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash were negated by the hedonism and influence of the Greeks, while the Chanukah lights can never be nullified.5 They brighten the darkness even in Golus, the time of the greatest possible darkness.
The contrast of the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash and the Chanukah menorah parallels the contrast between the ba’al teshuvah and the tzaddik.6 The tzaddik, like the lights of the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash, has no connection to aveiros. The ba’al teshuvah, however, has committed aveiros in his past, but has done teshuvah and transformed his personal darkness into light, turning evil into good.7
This contrast is also revealed through the number of lights kindled in the two menorahs. On Chanukah, eight lights are kindled, when in the Beis HaMikdash only seven were kindled. Seven, the number of lights in the Beis HaMikdash, signifies perfection within the natural order, like the seven days of the week. The perfection of the number seven applies in the material world and in the Seder HaHishtalshelus (the progression of spiritual realms). Therefore, in the Beis HaMikdash, where G-dliness was readily apparent, seven lights were enough.
When we need to bring peace and light into the darkness of Golus, it is necessary to add an extra light, to transcend the natural order. This is accomplished through the eight lights of the Chanukah menorah, as the number eight symbolizes a light that is higher than worldly limitations, a light that can break through all barriers.8
Why did the Rambam emphasize the greatness of peace in Hilchos Chanukah? "Peace refers to the establishment of unity between opposing thrusts."9 The kindling of Shabbos candles was established to bring peace in the home (specifically between husband and wife).10 Similarly, the Chanukah candles are intended to bring peace, an even higher level of peace: between darkness and light and between the natural order and the light that transcends the natural order. However, when a person lacks means, his first priority must be the Shabbos candles, which bring peace in the home.
May we always have the means to light both the Shabbos candles and the Chanukah lights, bringing peace in the home and peace outside, truly illuminating the darkness and shattering the Golus, ushering us directly to the Final Redemption.
1. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Chanukah 4:14.
2. Gemara, Shabbos 21b.
4. Kehillas Yaakov (by the author of Melo HaRo’im), entry Tarmud; Gemara, Yevamos 16b; Gemara Yerushalmi, Taanis 4:5).
5. Ramban’s commentary on Parshas Behaalos’cha.
6. Gemara, Brachos 34b; Sefer HaMaamarim 5709, p. 183.
7. Gemara, Yoma 86b.
8. Responsa of the Rashba, Vol. 1, Responsum 9; Maamar Vayehi BaYom HaShemini 5704.
9. See Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, the conclusion of Epistle 30.
10. Shulchan Aruch HaRav 263:1.