Hanukkah: Lighting the path to redemption

How will we light the Hanukkah lights when Mashiach comes? Read this and be prepared.

Daniel Pinner,

Daniel Pinner
Daniel Pinner
INN:DP

The Talmud records the different opinions of the Academy of Shammai and the Academy of Hillel regarding lighting the Hanukkah lights: “The Academy of Shammai says that on the first day we light eight [candles], and from then on decrease by one each day; the Academy of Hillel says that on the first day we light one [candle], and from then on increase by one each day” (Shabbat 21b).

The Talmud continues by quoting the sage Ulla, who cited two explanations for this difference, two explanations given by two Amoraim (Talmudic sages of the post-Destruction period), both of whom lived in the Land of Israel.

The first Amora is Rabbi Yossi bar Avin, who explained that Shammai saw the candles as corresponding to the days still to come, hence eight candles on the first night, seven on the second night, and so on until one candle on the eighth and final night when there is only one day left.

Hillel, by contrast, saw the candles as corresponding to the days which had already come, hence one candle on the first night, two on the second, and so on until eight candles on the eighth and final night.

The second Amora is Rabbi Yossi bar Zavda, who offered an alternative explanation for Hillel and Shammai’s difference of opinion. According to him, Shammai saw the Hanukkah candles as paralleling the bulls which were sacrificed on Sukkot, which diminished from thirteen bulls on the first day of Sukkot, to twelve on the second day, and so on down to seven bulls on the seventh and final day of Sukkot (Numbers 29:12-34).

Hillel, by contrast, applied the principle that “we increase sanctity, and we do not decrease it”.

Rabbi Yossi bar Avin and Rabbi Yossi bar Zavda were contemporaneous, living about three and a half centuries after Hillel and Shammai. And both were disciples of Rabbi Avahu in Caesarea, who in turn had been a disciple of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nafcha in Tiberias, who was a disciple of Rabbi Yannai, who was a disciple of Rabbi Chanina bar Chama, who was a disciple of Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi (the Prince, i.e. head of the Sanhedrin), who was son and disciple of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, who was son and disciple of Rabban Gamliel, who was son and disciple of Rabban Shimon, who was son and disciple of Rabban Gamliel the Elder, who was son and disciple of Rabban Shimon, who was son and disciple of Hillel – the same Hillel who opined that on the first day we light one candle, and from then on increase by one each day.

According to Rabbi Yossi bar Avin, Shammai emphasizes the potential (the days still left to come in the future), while Hillel emphasizes the actual (which night of Hanukkah this is).

This is consistent with many Hillel/Shammai disputes – for example, their attitude to Shabbat: “They said of Shammai the Elder: all his life he ate in honour of Shabbat. If he would find a goodly animal, he would say: This will be for Shabbat. If he would then find a second animal better than that, he would reserve the second [for Shabbat] and eat the first [during the week]. But Hillel the Elder had a different trait, for all that he did was for the sake of Heaven, as it is said, ‘Blessed be Hashem day by day’ (Psalms 68:20). Similarly, it was taught: the Academy of Shammai say: From the first day of the week [prepare] for Shabbat. But the Academy of Hillel say: Blessed be Hashem day by day” (Beitza 16a).

Rashi (ad. loc.) comments on Shammai’s custom: “The result is that the first animal [of inferior quality] is also eaten in honour of Shabbat, for he would eat it so that the second one, the superior one, would be eaten on Shabbat”. By contrast, Hillel favoured the verse from Psalms, “Blessed be Hashem day by day” – that is to say, bless Hashem today for the animal which He has made available to you today. Again, Shammai emphasised the potential – the Shabbat that will be in the future, at the end of the week; Hillel emphasised the actual – the meat that is available at this moment.

The Ramban (Commentary to Exodus 20:8) cites the Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochay, suggesting that Shammai based his custom on the command “Remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it” (Exodus 20:8). The inference of the Ramban’s words is that Hillel based his custom on the parallel verse, “Safeguard the day of Shabbat to sanctify it” (Deuteronomy 5:12).

This is yet another example of the difference between Hillel and Shammai. The command to “remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it” applies before Shabbat – remember the Shabbat before it comes, such as by calling the days of the week “the first day of Shabbat”, “the second day of Shabbat”, and so on. That is to say, “Remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it” is the potential, Shammai’s perspective. By contrast, “Safeguard the day of Shabbat to sanctify it” applies specifically on Shabbat itself (see Bereishit Rabbah 16:4) – the actual, which is Hillel’s perspective.

Rabbi Yossi bar Zavda imputed different ideological motives to Hillel and Shammai. According to his view, Shammai saw a parallel between Sukkot and Hanukkah, whereas Hillel argued that “we increase sanctity, and we do not decrease it”, which principle occurs throughout the Talmud to adjudicate such diverse halachot as determining the place where the show-bread was offered (Shekalim 6:4, Menachot 11:7), the tasks that certain rabbis could perform (Berachot 28a, Yoma 20b), how many verses each man called up to the Torah on a weekday should read (Megillah 21b), under what circumstances a Kohen who has been disqualified can be restored to his office (Horayot 12b), recycling the parchment of Tefillin to make a Mezuzah or vice versa (Soferim 14:20), and dozens of other instances.

Rabbi Yossi bar Zavda’s explanation of Shammai’s ruling compels the question: What is the connexion between Sukkot and Hanukkah?

The seventy bulls sacrificed during Sukkot (13 on the first day, 12 on the second, and so on down to 7 on the seventh and final day) correspond to the seventy nations of the world (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:24; Eichah Rabbah 1:23; Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah 1 [15]:2; Midrash Shocher Tov, Psalms 109; Yalkut Shimoni, Psalms 868, et. al.).

We would sacrifice 70 bulls during Sukkot to atone for the sins of all 70 nations, hence Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s aphorism that “had the nations of the world known how beneficial the Holy Temple was for them, they would have built fortresses around it to defend it, for it was even more beneficial for them than it was for Israel” (Bamidbar Rabbah 1:3 and Tanhuma, Bamidbar 3).

And Hanukkah is the Festival that celebrates our victory over the Seleucid Empire which defiled our Holy Temple, which for decades used its seemingly invincible military might to prevent us from bringing any sacrifices.

As a result of the Hanukkah victory, the sacrifices in the Holy Temple were restored, and those 70 bulls, atoning for the 70 nations, could once again be sacrificed.

As Sukkot teaches our potential to elevate the entire world – not only Israel – in sanctity, so Hanukkah is the Festival that celebrates the restoration of that potential. So Shammai, who focuses on the potential, derives the laws of Hanukkah from the laws of Sukkot.

Hillel, by contrast, focuses on the actual. The Holy Temple is the very epitome of sanctity, the actualisation of sanctity in this physical, temporal world. So Hillel derives the laws of Hanukkah from the principle that “we increase sanctity, and we do not decrease it” – hence according to him we increase from one candle on the first night to two candles on the second night, and so forth.

In this, as in almost all disputes between Hillel and Shammai, we follow Hillel’s opinion. (There are just nine exceptions in the entire Talmud – six cases in which we follow neither opinion, and three in which we follow Shammai’s opinion.)

The Babylonian Talmud records that “for three years the Academy of Shammai and the Academy of Hillel disputed, each one claiming that ‘the halakhah follows us!’. A Heavenly Voice came forth, proclaiming: Both are the words of the Living God – and the halakhah follows the Academy of Hillel” (Eiruvin 13b).

The Jerusalem Talmud cites the same episode in several places, and provides an additional detail: “Where did this Heavenly Voice come forth? – …In Yavneh” (Yerushalmi Berachot 1:4, Yevamot 1:6, Sotah 3:4, Kiddushin 1:1).

“In Yavneh” – meaning after the destruction of the Holy Temple, after the Sanhedrin had relocated to Yavneh from the Chamber of Hewn Stone at the entrance of the Holy Temple.

And when will Beit Shammai’s opinion constitute practical halakhah? – The Zohar (Ra’ayah Meheimnah Volume 3, Parashat Pinchas 245), explains that Hillel’s opinion is appropriate for this world, while Shammai’s opinion is reserved for the days of Mashiach.

So in the days of Mashiach, the time when today’s potential will have become the actual, we will light eight candles on the first night of Hanukkah, seven on the second, and steadily diminish until we will light one candle on the eighth and final night.

It is apposite, then, to recall that the first Hanukkah, the Dedication of the first Holy Temple, was celebrated by King Solomon upon completing the First Temple, when he ordained a seven-day Festival which was an immediate prelude to Sukkot (1 Kings 8, 2 Chronicles 7:8-9).

The Radak writes: “The Hanukkah [Dedication] of the Holy Temple was also called a Festival because it was adjacent to the Festival of Sukkot; and they celebrated seven days of Hanukkah [Dedication] and seven days of the Festival of Sukkot; the Tanach says [that they celebrated for] ‘fourteen days’ (1 Kings 8:65) to tell you that there was no gap between the two celebrations” (Commentary to 1 Kings 8:65).

The first Hanukkah, the Hanukkah [Dedication] of the Holy Temple, established the ultimate link between Hanukkah and the Holy Temple, interpreted so differently by Hillel and by Shammai.

Ever since the days of the Maccabees, we have always lit the Menorah according to Hillel’s ruling, lighting one candle on the first night, two on the second night, and so on. But in the future time to come, in the days of Mashiach, when the third and final and eternal Holy Temple will stand, we will celebrate Hanukkah according to the ruling of the Academy of Shammai. Then we will light eight candles on the first night, seven on the second night, and so on.

And so this afternoon, as I prepare my Hanukkah Menorah for the first night of Hanukkah, I will fill eight vials of olive oil ready for lighting. Because even though until now we have always lit according to Hillel’s ruling, I want to be ready for anything that may happen. And maybe, just maybe, before sunset…






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