Hiddur in the Mitzva of Chanuka Candles
הרב גבריאל סרף
The Gemara in Shabbat (21b) states that the mitzva of Chanuka candles is to light a candle in each household. The mehadrin light a candle for each and every individual. The mehadrin min hamehadrin level is subject to a dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. The halakha follows the view of Beit Hillel, that the number of candles is increased each night.
The opinion of the Ri (cited in Tosafot s.v. Umehadrin) is that the dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel is predicated on the base level mitzva, in which there is one candle per household. The mehadrin min hamehadrin level is that instead of having one candle per household, there is one set of candles, with the number of candles increasing each day. It is not an extension of the mehadrin level fulfillment of the mitzva, in which there is a separate candle for each member of the household. The reason for this understanding is that if there would be a set of candles for each member of the household, since the number of family members present on any given night is not known to the outside world, a passerby would not know what night it is by looking at the candles.
The underlying assumption of this opinion is that the candles are lit outside. Consequently, Tosafot conclude that the two types of hiddur (mehadrin and mehadrin min hamehadrin) are contradictory, as it is not possible to publicize which night it is if there is a separate set of candles for each member of the household. Therefore, there is the base level mitzva, and two entirely separate options for hiddur, in which one (mehadrin min hamehadrin) is preferable over the other (mehadrin).
The Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla v’Chanuka 4:1-2) famously disagrees with this approach:
How many candles does one light on Chanuka? The mitzva is that each and every household should light one candle, whether there are many household members or whether there is just one individual. One who is mehader (meticulous) in performing the mitzva lights candles in accordance with the number of people in the household, one for each person, both men and women. One is mehader even more and performs the mitzva in the ideal fashion (mitzva min hamuvchar) lights a candle for each person on the first night, and continuously adds a candle on each night. How so? If there were ten members of the household, on the first night he lights ten candles, on the second night twenty, and on the third night thirty, until he lights on the eighth night eighty candles.
As the Maggid Mishneh observes, the Rambam holds that the mehadrin min hamehadrin fulfill the mehadrin level as well in lighting separate candles for each household member. These are not two separate, incompatible methods of hiddur. Rather, the mehadrin min hamehadrin level is built upon and an extension of the mehadrin level of fulfillment of the mitzva.
The opinion of Tosafot is clear, as they explained that if one fulfills the mitzva in the manner advocated by the Rambam, it will not be clear which night it is. Apparently, the Rambam is not concerned with the fact that this will not be obvious to the onlooker. What is the basis of this dispute?
It would appear that Tosafot and the Rambam argue about the nature of the hiddur involved in the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles.
There is a general concept of hiddur mitzva, which is derived in the Gemara (Shabbat 133a) from the verse “"זה א-לי ואנוהו, this is my God and I will glorify Him. The question is if the levels of hiddur regarding Chanuka candles are an application of the general concept of hiddur mitzva, or whether they are built in to the particular mitzva of Chanuka candles, in that Chazal established different levels of fulfillment of this mitzva.
Rabbeinu Chananel takes for granted that the levels of hiddur in the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles are an application of the regular concept of hiddur mitzva. He cites the Gemara in Bava Kamma (9b) which states that one should be willing to increase his expenditure for a mitzva by up to a third in order to fulfill hiddur mitzva. Apparently, he understands that Chazal viewed it as a hiddur to light more candles than the one candle necessary for the basic fulfillment of the mitzva, and therefore it is considered a hiddur to light a candle for each member of the household or according to the number of days of Chanuka that have gone by. In any event, he does not view these manners of fulfilling the mitzva as “mitzva min hamuvchar” levels of fulfillment built into the mitzva of Chanuka candles, but rather as a general hiddur of having more candles. This explains why in this case the limit of spending an extra third does not apply, as the hiddur is defined simply as having more candles. Alternatively, the Gemara in Bava Kamma expresses that one is required to spend an extra third for hiddur mitzva, whereas here the additional number of candles beyond that amount is optional.
According to this view, it would appear that the hiddur is only accomplished if it is noticeable. This is similar to the Gemara in Yoma (70a), which states that after the Kohen Gadol would read from the Torah on Yom Kippur, each individual would bring his own personal Sefer Torah from home and read it, in order to show it to the masses. Rashi explains that this means to show how beautiful the Torah was, which is a credit to its owner, who took the effort to ensure it was beautiful, in fulfillment of the verse, "זה א-לי ואנוהו". Accordingly, the general concept of hiddur mitzva, which is based on this verse, applies when the hiddur is visible to the outside world (it is for this reason that although one of the examples of hiddur mitzva mentioned in the Gemara is writing a Sefer Torah on nice parchment, the Gemara does not give the example of writing tefillin on nice parchment – because the parchment inside the tefillin is not visible to the outside). Accordingly, the hiddur of Chanuka candles must also be observable from the outside.
On the other hand, it is possible that the levels of hiddur in the mitzva of Chanuka candles are due to the fact that when Chazal instituted this mitzva, they established three different levels of fulfillment of the mitzva: Lighting one candle for the household, lighting one candle for each member of the household, and lighting candles in correspondence to the night of Chanuka (one on the first night, two on the second night etc). Accordingly, it is not necessary for the hiddur to be externally noticeable.
This may explain the dispute between Tosafot and the Rambam. Tosafot hold that hiddur in the mitzva of Chanuka candles is an application of the general principle of hiddur mitzva, and therefore it must be externally noticeable. The Rambam holds that it is not based on the regular principle of hiddur mitzva, but rather it is built into the particular mitzva of Chanuka candles that there are multiple levels of fulfillment of the mitzva.
Rashi on our sugya, when the Gemara mentions those who fulfill the mehadrin level of the mitzva, writes: “המהדרין אחר המצוות,” those who are meticulous in their mitzva observance. This broad, inclusive language refers to people who are meticulous in their general mitzva observance in all aspects of their lives. Apparently, Rashi understood like Tosafot that this is an application of the general concept of hiddur mitzva. Conversely, the Rambam writes “המהדר אחר המצוה,” one who is meticulous in observing the mitzva. This language refers specifically to the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles, implying that this is a hiddur built into the specific mitzva of Chanuka candles. He then writes: “One who is mehader even more and performs the mitzva in the ideal fashion (mitzva min hamuvchar).” This terminology is not related to the general category of hiddur mitzva but rather to a type of hiddur that causes the mitzva to be fulfilled on a qualitatively higher level, like the statement in the Gemara (Pesachim 8a) that using a torch for havdala is a “mitzva min hamuvchar,” because it provides more light. Similarly, using olive oil for Shabbat candles would be a mitzva min hamuvchar because it provides a more stable flame, and one thereby fulfills the mitzva itself in an optimal fashion. This is how the Rambam understood the mehadrin and mehadrin min hamehadrin levels of the mitzva to light Chanuka candles.
The Shulchan Arukh (671:2) apparently rules in accordance with the opinion of Tosafot, stating: “How many candles does one light? On the first night one lights one, and from then on one adds an additional candle each night, until on the last night there are eight. Even if there are many household members, they do not light more.” The Rama adds: “Some say that each of the household members should light, and this is the common practice. And each one should be careful to place his candles in a special place so that it will be recognizable how many candles are being lit.”
The Taz comments that this is a unique circumstance in which Sephardic practice accords with the opinion of Tosafot and Ashkenazic practice follows the opinion of the Rambam. However, this requires further analysis: Is it in fact true that the halakhic practice of the different communities is the opposite of what we normally find? And if so, why is that the case?
The Shulchan Arukh (674:1) rules in accordance with the Gemara in Shabbat that one may light one of the Chanuka candles from another as long as one does not transfer the flame via a different candle that is not being used for the mitzva. The Rama writes that it is customary to be stringent and not to light one candle from another, because the primary mitzva is just the first candle, whereas “the rest are not such a mitzva.”
The basis of this dispute seems to be similar to our analysis above: If the additional candles are built into the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles and represent a qualitatively superior fulfillment of this particular mitzva, they all have the status of Chanuka candles and it is not a denigration of the mitzva to use one of them to light another. This is in accordance with the ruling of the Shulchan Arukh. However, the Rama holds that the additional candles fulfill the general concept of hiddur mitzva but do not have the inherent status of Chanuka candles, and therefore it would be problematic to use the first candle to light the others.
According to this explanation, however, the Shulchan Arukh rules in accordance with the Rambam, that the hiddur of adding more candles is built into the very fabric of the mitzva of Chanuka candles, unlike the Taz’s claim that the Shulchan Arukh rules like Tosafot. The Rama, on the other hand, seems to understand like Tosafot. Perhaps the Rama is simply being stringent in order to account for both opinions, but this explanation is difficult. So how are we to understand the rulings of the Shulchan Arukh and Rama?
Furthermore, the Shu”t Beit Yehuda (siman 18; cited in Sha’arei Teshuva on the Shulchan Arukh) asks why the Rama is stringent about lighting from one candle to another; after all, the Gemara states that this is permissible!
An additional question may be raised: The Shulchan Arukh (671:1) writes that even one who is very poor and supported by charity must borrow money or sell his garment in order to acquire oil with which to light Chanuka candles. The Mishna Berura (s”k 3) explains that this is necessary only for one candle for each night.
However, the Or Sameach (4:12) infers from the language of the Rambam there that he disagrees and holds that the poor man must sell his garment even in order to light the number of candles that corresponds to the night of Chanuka, and not just in order to light one candle each night. This would certainly confirm the fact that the Rambam views the extra Chanuka candles as built into the fulfillment of this particular mitzva rather than a fulfillment of the general concept of hiddur mitzva, as there is certainly no obligation to sell one’s garment in order to fulfill hiddur mitzva.
This being the case, it is difficult to understand why the Mishna Berura rules that it is not necessary to sell one’s garment for the additional candles of hiddur. After all, if Ashkenazic practice follows the opinion of the Rambam he should have ruled like the Or Sameach that one must sell his garment even for the additional candles. And in this case the Mishna Berura is being lenient against the opinion of the Rambam, so it cannot be explained as suggested above that the Ashkenazic practice is to be stringent for both opinions.
Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger, Tinyana, siman 13) addresses a case of one who lit Chanuka candles on the eighth night and forgot to recite the blessings, but he remembered before he finished lighting all of the candles. Should this individual still recite the blessings? He certainly can still recite the blessing of She’asa Nissim and Shehecheyanu (if relevant), as even one who does not light Chanuka candles at all may recite these blessings upon seeing Chanuka candles that have been lit by others. The question is regarding the blessing of Lehadlik.
Rabbi Akiva Eiger cites a dispute between the Pri Chadash and Elya Rabbah as to whether one may recite a blessing over the candles being lit for the mehadrin levels of fulfillment of the mitzva, and therefore he suggests that one should not recite the blessing due to the principle that one does not recite a blessing in a case of uncertainty (safek berakhot lehakel). However, Rabbi Akiva Eiger concludes that due to a combination of factors and opinions, there is actually a triple-safek leaning in the direction of reciting the blessing, and therefore one should recite the blessing. The factors are as follows: Perhaps one should recite a blessing over the candles lit for the hiddur, in accordance with the opinion of the Elya Rabbah. Even if that is not the case, perhaps as long as he is still lighting candles, he is still considered to be involved in the act of the mitzva and therefore he may recite the blessing. And even if that is not the case, perhaps the halakha follows the view of those who hold one may recite a blessing on a mitzva even after having concluded the performance of the act of the mitzva.
It would seem that the dispute between the Pri Chadash and Elya Rabbah is based on the same analysis we have been discussing: If the hiddur of lighting additional candles is an aspect of the particular mitzva of Chanuka candles, one can still recite the blessing if he has not yet finished lighting these candles. If they are a fulfillment of the general concept of hiddur mitzva, one may not recite the blessing. In fact, the Rambam in a teshuva (cited in the Avudraham, among others) writes explicitly like the Elya Rabbah that one may recite the blessing over these additional candles. This is consistent with the Rambam’s general view as presented above.
The Mishna (Shabbat 19:5) and Gemara (Shabbat 133b) state that while one is still involved in the act of circumcision, he should remove pieces of skin that it are recommended to remove, even if they are not essential for the validity of the circumcision. However, once he has concluded the act, he should remove any remaining pieces of skin only if they are essential for the validity of the circumcision.
The Tur in Hilkhot Mila (Yoreh De’a 266) explains that this is true only on Shabbat, because once the basic act of circumcision is completed, removing additional pieces of skin that do not affect the validity of the circumcision would represent a transgression of a prohibited labor on Shabbat. However, on a weekday, one would remove even those pieces of skin, even after having completed the act, due to hiddur mitzva. The Rama (Darkhei Moshe 6) cites the Agguda that when removing those pieces of skin on a weekday, one would not recite a blessing. It would seem that the opinion of the Tur can serve as a basis for the view of the Pri Chadash. However, based on our explanation above, the Tur is not a basis for the Pri Chadash, because the removal of the extra pieces of skin is a fulfillment of the general concept of hiddur mitzva, whereas in the case of Chanuka candles the very discussion is whether the extra candles represent a fulfillment of this general concept or are part of the fulfillment of the particular mitzva of Chanuka candles. Thus, the Tur does not necessarily disagree with the Rambam in the case of Chanuka candles.
Rabbi Akiva Eiger writes at the end of his teshuva that if the initial candle, which fulfilled the base level of the mitzva, has already gone out, it can no longer be argued that the individual lighting is still engaged in that initial mitzva, and therefore he may not recite the blessing on the remaining candles. He apparently holds that although one must still light the additional candles, he may not recite a blessing over lighting them.
This seems to contradict a ruling of the Sha’agat Aryeh (siman 50), who writes that it is possible to fulfill a hiddur only when the basic mitzva has not yet concluded. This is his interpretation of the Rambam’s view that one who has concluded the act of circumcision should not remove additional pieces of skin that do not affect the validity of the circumcision even on a weekday; since the act of circumcision has concluded, it is no longer possible to perform a hiddur with that mitzva. The Sha’agat Aryeh adds that even according to the Tur, who holds that on a weekday one would remove the additional pieces of skin, that is only because there is still a connection between the hiddur and the base mitzva, as the hiddur adds to and completes the original mitzva. However, in the case of Chanuka candles, if the first candle has already been extinguished even the Tur would admit that there is no connection between the original mitzva and the hiddur, and there is no point in lighting additional candles. According to this, the opinion of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, that one should still light the additional candles even though the original candle has gone out, is a unique opinion that is not consistent with the views of either the Rambam or the Tur.
However, Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s view can be explained based on the analysis we have presented above. He understands that the additional Chanuka candles are not a fulfillment of the general concept of hiddur mitzva but are rather a way to accomplish a more optimal fulfillment of the mitzva of Chanuka candles itself. Consequently, this case is not comparable to the case of circumcision, and even the Rambam, who holds that one would never remove skin that is not essential to the circumcision once he has completed the act of circumcision, would admit that in the case of Chanuka candles, even if the first candle goes out one should still light the remaining candles.
Let us now return to the Rama’s presentation of “mehadrin min hamehadrin.” Numerous Acharonim have pointed out that, contrary to the claim of the Taz, it is not precise to say that the Rama accepts the view of the Rambam. For instance, the Rama writes that one should be careful to place each set of candles separately so that it is clear which night of Chanuka it is. The Biur Halakha writes that in such a case, even Tosafot would agree that it is a hiddur for each person to light his own set. However, we have seen that according to the Rambam, it is unnecessary to be able to tell which night of Chanuka it is by looking at the candles.
Thus, it is apparent that the Rama really holds like Tosafot. However, Tosafot were addressing a reality in which people lit candles outdoors, and since there were not multiple doorways for each member of the household, it was impossible to sufficiently separate the different sets of candles. The Rama was addressing the reality of his time, when people would light inside the house, in which case it is possible for each person to light in a different corner.
An additional difference between the Rambam and Rama is that according to the Rambam, the head of the household lights all the candles, whereas according to the Rama, each individual lights his own set. Thus, as the Beit Halevi (Shabbat 23a) notes, the opinion of the Rambam is not really followed nowadays. The Ashkenazic custom is in accordance with the Terumat Hadeshen (siman 101).
Consequently, it seems clear that the Rama actually accepts the opinion of Tosafot, but holds that nowadays, even Tosafot would agree that it is possible to fulfill both types of hiddur. This explains why the Rama holds that one cannot light one candle from another; it is because he views the additional candles as a fulfillment of the general principle of hiddur mitzva, in accordance with the understanding of Tosafot. This also explains the ruling of the Mishna Berura that a poor person must sell his garment only for one candle per night, but not in order to light additional candles. He interprets the Rama as accepting the opinion of Tosafot that the extra candles are a fulfillment of the general principle of hiddur mitzva. The Rambam, as stated above, would disagree with all of these rulings.
 In fact, several Acharonim rule, based on this teshuva of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, that as long as the individual has not finished lighting all the candles, he should recite the blessing. See Arukh Hashulchan (end of siman 676); Ben Ish Chai (Parshat Miketz); Mishna Berura (676:4).
 See Arukh Hashulchan at the end of siman 671; S’dei Chemed, Ma’arechet Chanuka 9:4; Galya Masechet Orach Chaim siman 6.
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