Miketz 5773 – A Chanuka Halacha

This week’s Divrei Simcha is going to be a little different than normal. I would like to share with you a halacha from the Mishna Brura.

The Shulchan Aruch (678) states that if a person does not have enough money to buy both Chanuka candles and Shabbos candles and it is Friday afternoon, then he should buy Shabbos candles. The reason for this is because then he will have Shalom Bayis (peace in his house).

The Mishna Brura then makes a very interesting comment. He states that nowadays, there are opinions which state if a person can only buy one candle, he should buy one for Chanuka because we light our Menorah inside.

To understand this Mishna Brura, we need some background. First, the mitzvos of Shabbos candles and Chanuka candles are both D’Rabanan – this means they are not directly from the Torah, but a commandment that was given to us by our Sages from the Talmud. Therefore, they are both on an equal level.

The mitzvah of Shabbos candles was given to us because on Shabbos a person is not allowed to light a candle nor transfer a flame. Therefore, the Sages established that candles should be lit before the beginning of Shabbos so the people would have light in their houses over Shabbos. This brings Shalom Bayis because if the candles were not lit, it would be dark and people would trip either over each other or over their furniture. (Remember, there were no electric lights inside or outside during the times of the Gemara. Therefore, during the night, it was really dark.) These candles brought light so people would not harm themselves or others.

Next, the optimal place to light the Menorah is outside of one’s house next to the public thoroughfare. The reason is because the Menorah’s candles are to symbolize the miracles of Chanuka and this way the miracles are most publicized. Nowadays, though, the custom (except for certain places in Eretz Yisrael) is to light our Menorah inside. This is because we are scared that non-Jews will blow out our candles or will harm us in some way if we light outside. Therefore, we now light our Chanuka candles inside of our house.

Now we can understand the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch and the Mishna Brura. The Shulchan Aruch states a Shabbos candle takes priority over a Chanuka candle. The reason he states this is because on Shabbos a person needs light inside of his house. During the times of the Shulchan Aruch (1500s), most people lit their Menorah outside. Therefore, a person might harm himself or others if he did not light a candle inside of his house. Therefore, the Shulchan Aruch states a person should light a Shabbos candle and this way he will have Shalom Bayis.

During the times of the Mishna Brura (early 1900s), though, people lit their Chanuka candles inside of their houses. Since people were lighting their candles for Chanuka inside, therefore, they would now have a light inside of their house on Friday night. Since the Chanuka candles would provide Shalom Bayis and it would also have the addition of publicizing the Chanuka miracles, therefore, the Mishna Brura states there are opinions that state a Chanuka candle would come before a Shabbos candle.

There is a question we can ask on the Mishna Brura though. The halacha states that one cannot derive benefit from the Chanuka candles while they are burning. Therefore, how can the Mishna Brura state these would bring Shalom Bayis? If this is the only light in our house, how we can walk around inside of the house? Won’t that be benefiting from the light?

The Shaar HaTziyon (673:11) answers this question. He states that walking in a room by the light of the Chanuka candles (even if there is no other light) is allowable. A person cannot do any actual work or action using the lights, but using the light to walk in the room so that he does not trip is allowable. This answers our question on the Mishna Brura because now we see a person can light a Chanuka candle and use it for Shalom Bayis.

If you did not understand the above, that is fine. Here is the lesson – there are many factors that go into how a person properly performs mitzvos. As we can see from the above, a person really needs to know a lot of information to truly understand why the Shulchan Aruch and the Mishna Brura hold the way they do. The lesson is this is the reason a person should have a Rav or a Rebbe to ask questions to and to learn from. Jewish laws are not simple matters. A person cannot quickly read through a law book and understand how to properly perform a mitzvah. There are many factors that affect how the halacha applies in different cases and only a person who has mastered learning can really decide which is the correct way for a person to hold.

The word Chanuka comes from the word Chinuch, which means to teach. Chanuka is a time for teaching and learning. Our job is to learn from a Rav or a Rebbe the proper way to perform mitzvos because there are many factors that can affect even the simplest of the laws.

Good Shabbos! Freilichin Chanuka!
-yes
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