07 Dec Chanukah: Where to Place the Menorah
The gemara (Shabbos 21b) tells us that the proper place to put the Chanukah lights is in front of one’s home, so that all the passers-by will notice the lights, and thereby the greatest possible pirsumei nisa will be achieved. However, if it is a sha’as hasakanah, it is sufficient to leave the menorah inside one’s home. At one point the gemara (ibid 22b, see also Chidushei Sefas Emmes) clearly assumes that if the menorah is placed inside the home the mitzvah is not fulfilled at all because an essential factor in the mitzvah of ner Chanukah is the pirsumei nisa, and a private pirsum, serving only for the bnai habayis, is not sufficient. At that point the gemara clearly feels that the idea of placing the menorah on one’s table b’sha’as hasakanah is merely to have a zecher l’mitzvas ner Chanukah, without even partially fulfilling the mitzvah. The Sefas Emes points out that once the gemara reaches the conclusion of its discussion, this assumption is no longer necessary, and may fall away. One may assume that lighting in one’s home b’sha’as hasakanah is not merely for the purpose of having a zecher l’mitzvas ner Chanukah, but actually represents an incomplete kiyum hamitzvah of ner Chanukah; the pirsumie nisa for the bnai habayis constitutes a partial kiyum hamitzvah. This is obviously the position bnai chutz la’aretz have accepted for the past several centuries, since we recite all the berachos upon our lighting inside our homes; if it were only fulfilling a zecher l’ner Chanukah, it would probably not warrant all the berachos.
In his collection of drashos on the Torah the Sefas Emes has an interesting comment regarding this change in practice with respect to the makom hadlokas haneiros. The Chanukah lights, explains the Sefas Emes, represent the ohr haTorah. Years ago the inside of the Jewish homes were saturated with Jewish values, and the placing of the menorah outside the home, just near the doorpost, represented the keeping of the foreign influence of the street from penetrating within. Nowadays, however, as the gemara (Avoda Zara 8a) comments, the Jews who live in chutz la’aretz “worship avoda zara b’tahara”, and even the insides of their homes fall prey to many foreign influences and elements. Today it is necessary to light the ohr haTorah inside to chase out the foreign notions.
One possuk in Mishlei contrasts the effectiveness of learning Torah with that of fulfilling mitzvos, declaring, “ki ner mitzvah v’Torah ohr” – the illumination gained from doing a mitzvah is compared to the light of a small candle, while that gained from learning Torah is likened to the brilliance of a torch” (see Sotah 21a). A passuk in Tehillim, however, compares even the illumination gained from Torah learning to the light of a candle – “ner leragli devarecha, ve’or le’nesivasi”. The medrash (Yalkut Shimoni to Tehillim 119, siman 478), commenting on that passuk, explains that when one has just started to learn Torah, he should not feel that he is already competent enough to develop an entire life philosophy – his own hashkofas olam. Only after much learning does the power of illumination of Torah change from a ner to an ohr.
The gemara (Shabbos 88b, see also Rashi ad loc.) draws a distinction between two groups of people who learn Torah which it refers to as the meiyaminim and the masmeilim. For those who learn Torah with amal and yegiah, learning becomes a life-preserving drug. For those who learn, but without such a great commitment, and without yegiah and amal, learning will become a source of confusion, and a drug inducing their death.
Every person is enveloped in the choshech of our alma d’shikra. The possuk in borchi nafshi states, “toshes choshech veyehi layla”, on which the gemara (Bava Metzia 83b) comments, “zeh ha’olam hazeh shedomen lelaylah.” Our chachomim have taught us that “a small amount of light cancels much darkness”, but not all of the darkness. If one learns much Torah with great yegiah, he can dispel all of the choshech. If one has only begun to learn Torah, and only reached the level of ner leragli devarecha, then he will be in a state of ohr vechoshech mishtamshim b’irbuvyah. We sometimes hear of Orthodox rabbis espousing anti-Torah views even though these rabbis learned in yeshivas. The mere earning of semicha from a recognized yeshiva does not mean that a person is qualified to pasken a shayla. If one has ohr vechoshech mishtamshim b’irbuvyah in his own mind, he can never tell whether his opinion on any halachic matter is rooted in the ohr or in the choshech. The Shulchan Aruch (Rema, Yoreh Deah 242:3) quotes the statement of the Rambam, that those students of the Torah who paskin shaylas even though they are “lo higiyu l’hora’ah” are “extinguishing the illumination of the Torah.”
This statement of the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch was made so many years ago when the shaylas were usually standard, straight-forward ones rooted in gemara and poskim. It is even truer today, when Klal Yisroel is faced with new types of shaylas, many of which have no clear precedent in halachic literature. These new shaylas require poskim of great stature, who have such a broad understanding of halacha that they have even refined their intuitions and instincts to think in terms of Torah. Let us continue to light the Chanukah menorah inside our homes to chase out the foreign influences that have already crept in. May we all be zoche to harbai min ha’ohr, to succeed in being docech all of the choshech.