Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's commentary Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.
PROHIBITION TO BENEFIT FROM CHANUKAH LIGHTS
Many laws of Chanukah have the purpose of clearly distinguishing the Chanukah lights from other lights used for illumination. For example: Chanukah lights must have a single wick so that they are a “lamp” and not a “torch” which is better suited for illumination, and for the same reason the lights shouldn’t be arranged in a circle; the menorah is placed in a distinctive place, preferably placed low (OC 671:4-6); we do not light the lamp in one place and then move it to another (OC 675:1). Most importantly, we are not allowed to use the light of the Chanukah lamp for our own use, and we even light the "shamash", a special additional candle, to demonstrate this fact (OC 673:1).
This unique rule, that Chanukah lights must be conspicuously not for our own use, seems to reflect the message of Chanukah. Greek culture was on the whole tolerant of alien cultures, and their syncretistic religion was tolerant of other religions. Furthermore, Judaism was not a proselytising religion which would have undermined the Greek practices. Why should the Hellenistic conquerors have endeavored to forbid the study and observance of Torah?
They Greeks also interested themselves in theology - the supposed laws which govern the divine. But they seldom interested themselves in Torah - the laws by which the Divine governs us! They were little interested in demands which the Creator places on human beings.
Greeks could accept the fact that gods were more powerful than man, but they could not accept the fact that any being was master of man. Their way of “serving” their gods were really ways of mastering them: indulging and outwitting the gods in order to attain what man esteemed. It seems that what bothered them about the Jews was not that the Jews served one God, but rather that they served one God.
So it is fitting that we commemorate our cultural victory over Hellenism by lighting a light which does not serve us, showing that we recognize that not everything in this world is meant to further human enjoyment.
Rabbi Meir has recently completed writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha.
Rabbi Meir authors a popular weekly on-line Q&A column, "The Jewish Ethicist", which gives Jewish guidance on everyday ethical dilemmas in the workplace. The column is a joint project of the JCT Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev; and Aish HaTorah. You can see the Jewish Ethicist, and submit your own questions, at www.jewishethicist.com or at www.aish.com.