The Famous Debate
The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat brings to our attention the famous debate between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel – the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel.
According to Beit Shammai, on the first night of Hanukkah we should light eight candles, on the second night seven, going down to one on the concluding night.
According to Beit Hillel, it’s just the opposite, and this is our practise. We start with one on the first night, two on the second night, and on the concluding eighth night we light eight candles.
According to Beit Shammai, we should be mindful of the days that are left in the festival, while according to Beit Hillel we should concentrate on the days behind us.
Beit Shammai drew a parallel between the lighting of the chanukiah and the descending number of animals which were brought for sacrifice during the festival of Sukkot. According to Beit Hillel, what matters most of all is ‘maalin bekodesh’ – we should continuously strive to reach greater heights of spiritual attainment.
Hanukkah and Chinuch
I believe that there is a connection between this difference of opinion and Jewish education. The term we use for education is ‘chinuch’ coming from the same root as ‘Hanukkah’ meaning ‘dedication’. I love visiting our schools – I derive so much inspiration from seeing our young children with their passion and enthusiasm for their Yiddishkeit. They love to learn the alef bet, they’re proud of what they know, and they really relish those opportunities to sing the songs.
Sadly however, sometimes after an immersive Jewish education at a young age, the dedication to education can start to wane following bar and bat mitzvah – and the commitment can decrease as the years roll on. Beit Hillel however were insistent that actually the opposite should be the case.
We should consolidate what we have learnt and from there climb up one further step as we go higher and higher on the ladder of Jewish attainment and that is what is symbolised through the way in which we light our Hanukkah candles.
A Wise Student
The greatest accolade we can give to an authority in Jewish law is to say that a person is a ‘talmid chacham’ meaning a wise student. Whatever we know, even the greatest authority amongst us must still be a student.
Like the kindling of the Hanukkah candles, we can always climb higher on that ladder towards greatness.
Shabbat shalom and Hanukkah sameach.