Chanukah Lite – By Pinchas Winston
THE SECOND TRACTATE in Talmud Bavli is Maseches Shabbos. The first chapter begins with a discussion about the laws of transferring objects from domain to another on Shabbos, and the culpability that may or may not result. It concludes with the laws about lighting a fire, for example in an oven, that will burn into Shabbos.
This is a prelude to the next chapter which begins with a listing of various kinds of wicks and oils that can be used for Ner Shabbos. It is a good lead-in to one of the only places in all of Shas where there is a mention of Chanukah:
Rav Huna said: The wicks and oils which the rabbis said should not be used for Shabbos [candles], one should [also] not light with them on Chanukah, [whether] on Shabbos or on weekdays. (Shabbos 21a)
With respect to Shabbos, certain oils are pungent and it is disrespectful to use them on Shabbos. Certain wicks do not burn well, which takes away from Shabbos and they could result in a person accidentally adjusting or relighting them on Shabbos.
Regarding Ner Shel Chanukah, it is explained:
He holds that if a [Ner Chanukah] goes out, one must attend to it, and one may make use of its light. (Shabbos 21a)
As per the halachah, a Ner Chanukah must burn for a specific period of time for the mitzvah to be fulfilled. If the wick is faulty and it becomes extinguished before the time, the person must relight it to fulfill the mitzvah. This is not the ideal way of performing the mitzvah on any day of Chanukah, and on Shabbos Chanukah it can result in the breaking of Shabbos.
Since the Talmud has already broached the topic of Ner Shel Chanukah it continues to discuss additional laws regarding the lighting of the Menorah, including the following:
Bais Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are kindled and [the amount of candles] are gradually reduced [each night] after this. Bais Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased [each night]. (Shabbos 21b)
In other words, ideally, according Bais Shammai, one should light eight candles on the first night, seven candles on the second night, and so on until the last night of Chanukah on which a person lights only one candle. Bais Hillel hold just the opposite: one candle on the first night, two candles on the second night, and so on until eight candles are kindled on the last night.
The halachah is like Bais Hillel, but either way the total number of candles that are ideally kindled over the course of the eight days of Chanukah is 36. The Talmud however does not point this out which makes the number seem more incidental than intrinsically significant to the holiday of Chanukah, or life in general.
After discussing a few more laws of the Menorah the Talmud finally asks:
Literally, the words mean, “What is Chanukah?” or more specifically, as the Talmud’s answer makes clear, “What is the reason for the holiday of Chanukah?” The Talmud explains:
Our Rabbis taught . . . When the Greeks entered the Temple they defiled all the oils in it. When the Chashmonaim [later] prevailed against and defeated them, they searched and found only one jar of oil with the [unbroken] seal of the Kohen Gadol. It contained [only] enough oil for one day of lighting, and yet a miracle occurred and [with it] they kindled [the Menorah] for eight days. The following year these [days] were made a holiday with [the recital of] Hallel and thanksgiving. (Shabbos 21b)
The Talmud is exceptionally brief, as is its way. The answer to its question is, of course, 100 percent correct. It is not however 100 percent complete. It is the responsibility of the “Adam Shalaim” to not only read between the lines of its answer to get the full story about Chanukah, but between its words as well. This is the only way to make the journey from Creation to Chanukah 36 centuries later with the proper stops along the way.
For example, after Adam HaRishon ate from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Ra—the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil—and subsequently hid, God asked him but one question: hubris
The word is usually translated as, “Where are you?” After all, God had come calling and Adam was nowhere to be found. Or, perhaps, that is what he had hoped after he realized the incredible wrong he had committed by listening to his wife who had listened to the snake when eating from the forbidden fruit.
The only thing is that this is the first and last time the word “Ayekah” is used—ever. It also is not found in the dictionary because it is not the Hebrew word used to ask such a question, or any question for that matter. The closest former of the word that is used is “eichah,” but it only means “How?”
The following provides a clue to the meaning of Ayekah. The Talmud says:
Rabbah said in Rebi Yochanan’s name: Why were the Jewish people afflicted with “Eichah”? Because they transgressed the 36 injunctions of the Torah which are punishable by kares. (Sanhedrin 104a)
The “Eichah” referred to here is the lamentation composed by Yirmiyahu to mourn the destruction of the first Temple and subsequent suffering and exile of his generation. It is read each year on Tisha B’Av so that future generations will do the same.
What does the number 36 have to do with any of this? Seemingly nothing other than the fact that the gematria of “eichah” is equal to 36:
= 1 + 10 + 20 + 5
The Talmud Bavli does not say why this is significant, which means that it may mean nothing in terms of “Ayekah.” The Talmud Yerushalmi does mention something that literally sheds light on the origin and importance of the number 36:
For 36 hours the light served [Adam]: 12 hours Erev Shabbos, 12 hours Shabbos night, and the 12 hours of Shabbos day. (Yerushalmi, Brochos 8:5)
Which light served Adam HaRishon, and why only for 36 hours? The Talmud elsewhere answers this question as well:
With the light which The Holy One, Blessed is He, created on the first day, one could see from one end of the world to the other. When The Holy One, Blessed is He, foresaw the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Dispersion, that their actions would be corrupt, He hid it from them. (Chagigah 12a)
The Torah recounts the creation of light with the following verse:
God said, “Let there be light!” and there was light. (Bereishis 1:3)
The assumption is that whatever light God created on the first day of Creation it has remained available since that time. The Talmud corrects this assumption while explaining why God chose to hide this light, henceforth called the “Ohr HaGanuz,” or the “Hidden Light.” It was to keep it away from the spiritually unworthy.
Though it was hidden on the first day of Creation, according to the Yerushalmi, it did return for Adam HaRishon on Day Six. On that day, He gained access to the Ohr HaGanuz for 12 hours, and he continued to access the light of Creation for the 24 hours of Shabbos that followed. The total revelation of Ohr HaGanuz therefore was 36 hours.
This resulted in a profound connection between the number 36 and the revelation of Ohr HaGanuz. Even though the Talmud does not mention the importance of lighting 36 candles over the eight days Chanukah, its meaning nevertheless was built into the mitzvah:
They established the 36 candles corresponding to the first light that served Adam HaRishon for 36 hours. (Bnei Yissachar, Kislev-Teves)
To appreciate the importance of this conceptual connection, it is crucial to first understand more about this supernal light and how it relates not only to the purpose of Creation, but to the very exile it came to end:
The earth was null and void and there was darkness upon the face of the deep, and the spirit of God hovered above the water. (Bereishis 1:2)
“Darkness” [refers] to the Greek exile. (Bereishis Rabbah 2:4)