These candles are holy

During Chanukah Menorah lighting we say:

We kindle these lights [to commemorate] the saving acts, miracles and wonders which You have performed for our forefathers, in those days at this time, through Your holy priests. Throughout the eight days of Chanukah, these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make use of them, but only to look at them, in order to offer thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, for Your wonders and for Your salvations.

We say “these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but to look at them.” This appears to be surprising. The Gemara in Shabbat 28a says that it is forbidden to examine coins by the light of the Chanukah Menorah. The Gemara asks: “Does the candle have holiness in it?” And the Gemara answers that we don’t examine coins by the light of the Chanukah Menorah “so that the commandments shouldn’t be despised.” It sounds like there is no holiness in the candles!

It is possible, that maybe by themselves there is no holiness in the Menorah, however, the Sages amended the light similar to the Menorah of the Temple, and since the Menorah in the Temple has holiness, so too we act with holiness with the Chanukah Menorah. This approach is explained with the words of the Ba’al HaMaor, who explains that it is forbidden to use its light “since they are a remembrance of the candles and oil of the Temple”. And so too is it explained in the Ran (9a) that they made it as a lamp which is not at all used[1].

 

This approach whereby the lighting of the Chanukah Menorah is comparable to the Menorah in the Temple is raised in other places as well. We mention a number of them briefly.

 

  1. According to Ba’al HaSheiltot, we don’t use the leftover oil from the Chanukah lights and it should be burnt (the Rif permits it after it has burnt for the prescribed amount of time). The Ran had difficulty with that, since by other commandments, like Sukkah, it is permissible to use the Sukkah wood after the holiday[2]. It’s possible that the Ba’al HaSheiltot thought that the Chanukah light is different from the other commandments. Since they compared the Chanukah light to the Menorah in the Temple, it is forbidden to use the leftover oil.
  2. The words of Maimonides at the beginning of Parshat Behaalotcha (Numbers 8:2) are well known, that the princes merited to be a partner in the dedication of the Altar. Aaron also wanted to be a partner, and G-d said to him “when you kindle the lamps ” –the High Priest is the one who merits to benefit from the lights, and G-d further added (according to Maimonides interpretation, in light of the Midrash) that the lights of the Temple will continue forever, even after the destruction, through the kindling of the Chanukah lights. And if so, the Chanukah lights succeed the Temple lights!

 

There are additional sources which could be explained thus[3], but we will suffice with these

lights in the Temple which were Biblical, they ruled the same for the Chanukah lights and made them Biblical.    

If so, the lights are meant to be a continuation of the lights in the Temple. Therefore “these lights are sacred”.

Rabbi Charlop, Rabbi Kook’s student, explains the significance of Chanukah lights as a successor to the Menorah lights in the Temple (brought in the Moadei Hara’yah, p. 166):

The Chanukah lights are a remembrance of the Menorah in the Temple, and the holy priests then worked to elevate all of Israel to the level of the priests, that the Menorah at the entrance to every house in Israel, in every place they may be, should also be like the Menorah in the Temple. And every person in Israel who stands to light the Menorah, is like the priest lighting the holy lights in the Temple.

Rabbi Charlop explains, that kindling the Chanukah lights is meant to be similar to kindling the lights in the Temple. However, as opposed to the Temple where the priests tended to the lighting, on Chanukah: we are all priests! On Chanukah we all have a special merit to illuminate the special light, to illuminate the light of G-d. The lighting is done within the house, similar to the lighting of the Menorah in the Temple, however it is done in each and every house, and enables all of us to be a part of this lighting.

 

“These lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them… in order to express thanks and praise to Your great Name” – if we want to fuilfill “to express thanks and praise” we have to make sure that we act for the sake of Heaven.  We have to make sure that we perform the commandments from a holy perspective, and not from one in which we are concerned with our own benefit. We should perform the commandments from an understanding that we are involved with holiness, that our goal is to spread the great light, the light of the Divine Spirit, and not from a place of making a name and bringing honor to ourselves.

 

Let us try to bring the holiness into our homes on Chanukah, to sense the special light of the Menorah that our homes merit. Let us try to ascend with the candle – to illuminate with the light of the Torah, with the light of love and unity, with the light of the commandments, and from the enjoyable and special light, let us merit to continue and illuminate our lives and those around us after Chanukah as well.

[1] It’s possible that there is a dispute between the Amoraim on the issue, whether the whole prohibition of using the light is a result of disgrace or sanctity.

[2]The Ran explained that in the Sukkah an individual knows ahead of time that he can use the boards and therefore he doesn’t allocate them, but with Chanukah lighting the individual doesn’t wait for the candle to burn out, and his intention is that all the oil should used to fulfill the commandment.

[3] For example, A. lighting in the synagogue – we fulfill the commandment in the house. Yet, since the period of the Gaonim the custom was to also light in the synagogue. Why? The Manhig (105a) explains “They acted thus, since the miracle came to the everlasting Temple, and we do so in the miniature Temple in the Diaspora.” B. And so the commandment is fulfilled at the point of lighting– this approach is explained by Rashi (Shabbat 22a) that it is similar to lighting in the Temple “we light as we find by the Menorah”. C. In the Gemara in Pesachim (7a) there is a dispute when we bless with the wording “on the commandments” and when we bless with the word “to”. There are many methods among the Rishonim. The Raavad (The Laws of Brachot Ch. 11, Law 15 ) raises the possibility that for Rabbinic commandments we bless “on” which is wording which sounds more optional (“on the washing of the hands”), whereas for Biblical commandments we bless “to” (to affix a mezuzah). However, he has difficulty with the Chanukah lighting, a Rabbinic commandment where we bless “to light…”. He answers, that since it doesn’t have an allotment, and we can light as many candles as we like (as a beautification), we bless with the wording of “to”. And then he answers that since this blessing was made for the

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