Chanukah Sugyos

hero image

Kavsah Ein Zakuk Lah – If the Chanukah Candles Go Out

There is a machlokes in the Gemara (Shabbos 21a-b) if one is obligated to relight the Chanukah candles in the event that they go out before having burned for the requisite amount of time. Rav Huna holds that you do have to relight them, whereas Rav holds that you don’t; and we pasken like Rav. Kavsah eino zakuk lah.

The Rashba (in teshuvos 1:539) says that if someone was trying to fix the candles and accidentally put them out, he does not have to relight. The implication is that if he had done it purposely, he would have to relight. The Ba’eir Heiteiv in fact quotes this chiddush from the Gan Ha’Melech explicitly: that the halacha that one does not have to relight if the candles went out, is only so long as the candles went out by accident. However, if one purposely doused them, he is obligated to relight them.

The obvious question is, what is the basis for this chiddush? Why should there be a difference between the candles going out by accident or on purpose?

Rabi Akiva Eiger says (in teshuvos, Tinyana siman 13) that the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah is a mitzvah nimsheches, a mitzvah that has duration. As opposed to mitzvos – such as eating matzah – where the fulfillment of the mitzvah is limited to the moments during which one is actually performing the action of the mitzvah, Ner Chanukah is a mitzvah whose fulfillment has continuity to it, like the mitzvos of tallis and teffilin.

In other words, there are two components to the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah: the maaseh ha’mitzvah which is the act of lighting the candles, and the continued fulfillment of the mitzvah in that which the candles burn for the requisite amount of time. It’s a double kiyum. A kiyum of hadlakah, and a kiyum of kol zman sheh’ha’neiros dolkin.

Even according to Rav, who holds that the candles blowing out does not obligate one to relight them, this is so. The second component of the kiyum ha’mitzvah is in fact missing if the candles blew out prematurely; but, nevertheless, the Chachamim did not obligate him to relight them for this. Whereas Rav Huna holds that the continuous component of kiyum ha’mitzvah in the burning of the candles is l’ikuvah (integral), Rav holds that it is not l’ikuvah.  A kiyum it is, but not l’ikuvah.

Now we can well understand the chiddush that one is not obligated to relight only so long as it was accidental that the candles went out. If one purposely doused them, he has actively negated the continued fulfillment of the mitzvah.  He is therefore obligated to relight in order to restore the component of kiyum ha’mitzvah that he removed.

This also explains that which we find in the Poskim that, although one is not obligated to do so, if one sees that the Ner Chanukah went out prematurely (even accidentally), he certainly ought to relight it. Because by so doing he is restoring that component of the kiyum ha’mitzvah.

The Maharil says it is not less than the concept of mehadrin. This statement definitely needs a pshat. Perhaps what he means is that Chanukah gives us the opportunity to do things that we are not strictly obligated to do. Just like you can enhance the mitzvah by adding candles for each member of the household and each night – even though the basic fulfillment of the mitzvah does not require it – so too is it considered a fulfillment of the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah if you relight it when it went out, despite not being obligated to do so.


Girsah D’yankusa

The Gemara (Shabbos 21b) says that Rav holds that (strictly speaking) one is allowed to use inferior oils and wicks for Ner Chanukah whether during the weekdays or Shabbos (meaning late Friday afternoon which will continue burning leil Shabbos); even those that are not acceptable for Ner Shabbos.

It was said in the name of Rabi Yirmiyah that the reasoning behind Rav’s psak is: a) kavsah ein zakuk lah, if the Ner Chanukah goes out you are not obligated to relight it, and b) assur l’hishtameish l’orah, it is forbidden to derive benefit from the light of the Ner Chanukah.

Abayei was not willing to accept Rabi Yirmiyah’s statement as 100% authentic, authoritative, and reliable. However, when Ravin later reported the same statement in the name of Rabi Yochanan, Abayei accepted it.

Abayei exclaimed, “If I would have merited, I would have accepted and memorized it as authentic Torah teaching from the outset.” The Gemara asks, of what significance is that; he knows it now?! The Gemara answers that the difference is girsa d’yankusah, the Torah learning which one is goreis in one’s youth. Rashi explains that what one learns and is goreis in one’s youth stays with you stronger than that which is learned in older age.

There is a basic question on this shakla v’tarya. If Abayei initially rejected Rabi Yirmiyah’s statement, that would imply that he would have assumed that one is allowed to benefit from the light of the Chanukah candles. So why does the Gemara say that the only nafkah minah (of when he assimilated this psak into his Torah databank) is girsa d’yankusah? Wasn’t he accidentally violating an issur d’Rabbanan of making use of the light of the neiros all the Chanukahs in the interim? Isn’t that enough of a justification for him to say, “If I would have merited it, I would have learned it right from the outset”?!

Girsa d’yankusah doesn’t necessarily mean forty years later. It could very well be that Abayei heard the statement in the name of Rabi Yirmiyah on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan and in the name of Rabi Yochanan on Rosh Chodesh Kislev, and that there was never a point that he went through a Chanukah thinking that it is mutar to use the light of the Chanukah candles.

The truth is, even one day makes a difference. This is a tremendous mussar haskel. Every day that goes by, there is a little bit less koach of girsa d’yankusah! 19 years old 5 months and 13 days is not the same as 19 years old 5 months and 14 days. It is kaveh v’holeich; that’s for sure. When does it go out completely? I don’t know. I hope I never get there.

And why is it that this tremendous mussar haskel of girsa d’yankusah was taught by Chazal specifically in the sugyos of Chanukah? Because, as is well known, Chanukah is the Yomtov of Torah sheh’b’al peh, and for Torah sheh’b’al peh you need girsa d’yankusah.


At What Point is the Flame No Longer a Flame? 

Rav Huna says (Shabbos 21a) that one is not allowed to light the Chanukah candles with inferior wicks or oil. Why? Rava explains: “because he holds kavsah zakuk lah.” On this, Rashi writes, “zakuk lah – l’taknah”. This seems peculiar.  The word l’taknah means to fix it. Why didn’t Rashi just say l’hadlikah, to relight it? Furthermore, Rashi adds there, “therefore he must initially make the candle properly, because, if not, we are concerned that he will be negligent and not fix it.” On this both the Pnei Yehoshua and the Beis Ha’Levi ask: are we talking about reshaim who don’t care about the mitzvah?! And if we are, then they won’t light Chanukah candles to begin with?! The Beis Ha’Levi’s approach to this is based on a Rashi on daf 44a where he says that the word kavsah does not necessarily mean that the flame is totally out, but that it is in the process of going out. That pshat is practically a must from the Gemara itself over there which discusses whether or not one violates the prohibition of mechabeh on Shabbos by putting out a flame which is kavsah.

Obviously, if the flame is completely out, there is nothing to talk about. In any event, the Beis Ha’Levi says a tremendous chiddush based on that Rashi: once the flame is dark and is going out, it is already as if it is totally doused and there is no more mitzvah even though there is still a flame there; the reason being that such a flame has no beauty and is not at all recognizable as being for the mitzvah. (What this is most probably referring to is when there is only a blue light coming out of the candle, without any yellow or orange). Therefore, concludes the Beis Ha’Levi, Rashi says l’taknah – that one is obligated to fix the candle (according to Rav Huna), because even though there is still a flame there, it is a worthless flame and must be fixed. And that is why we are concerned that he may be negligent, because he may mistakenly think that this dark little flame is sufficient. Perhaps we can utilize the Beis Ha’Levi’s inference from Rashi on 44a to posit another approach to understanding Rashi here on 21a, without being forced to be mechadeish that the mitzvah is already gone when the flame is very small and on the way out.

Many take issue with that assertion. There are two components to the mitzvah: a) the act of lighting and b) the flames burning for the requisite time. Even Rav – who holds that one is not obligated to relight the candles if they went out – agrees to this, just that he holds that the second component is not integral, it is not l’ikuvah. Rav Huna – who says that one must relight if the flames went out – holds that even the second component of the mitzvah is critical, it is l’ikuvah. As such – according to Rav Huna – what would we say about a situation where the flame went out and it took a minute until he managed to relight it? Yes, he took immediate action and he did what he was supposed to do, but what of those few moments that the flames were not burning? Those moments of the shiur ad sheh’tichleh regel min ha’shuk (which, according to the Rif, is half an hour) are gone.  Lost. It is a meuvas lo yuchol liskon. Therefore, according to Rav Huna, one is obligated to fix the flames as soon as he sees that they are getting low and going out.  Not because such flames are tantamount to no flames, but rather because if he waits until they actually go out, he will lose those few moments of mitzvah-fulfillment. Therefore, according to Rav Huna, he is not allowed to use inferior wicks and oil since we are concerned that he may be negligent regarding this obligation to fix an on-the-way-out flame.


Defining the Obligation of Ner Chanukah

Two people share a house, and one of them unilaterally puts up a mezuzah. If the second wants to put up another mezuzah – he cannot do that, and if he does it is probably a violation of bal tosif. Very likely, he also does not have a fulfillment of the mitzvah, but he becomes patur from the mitzvah by dint of the fact that there is a mezuzah already on the house. Mezuzah is a mitzvah of accomplishing a particular objective, and the objective was already accomplished.

Ner Chanukah, though, is not like that. When the baal ha’bayis lights, everyone gets their fulfillment of the mitzvah through his lighting.

How do we know that this is the case? The halacha of a guest.

A guest is obligated to pay the baal ha’bayis a bit of money to get a partnership in the candles, and if he does not do so, he does not fulfill his mitzvah.

So we see, even though the house has a Ner Chanukah, he is not patur from the mitzvah.  He has to somehow get a part in it.

We see, then, that everyone in the home has an obligation of lighting Ner Chanukah. The permanent household members are automatically subsumed in the lighting of the homeowner, and a guest needs to proactively do something (pay money) in order to get his part in that lighting.

The Rishonim ask why we say l’hadlik in the bracha of Ner Chanukah, since al mitzvas is the appropriate nusach when it is something that can be done by someone other than oneself. The Ramban answers that the homeowner’s lighting is considered that the guest is lighting. It is his hadlakah. This underscores the above point; that – although it is not necessary to employ any specific mechanism such as shomeiah k’oneh or appointing a shaliach – the lighting of the homeowner is considered that all the household members lit. That is the takanah of ner ish u’beiso.

The word bayis does not necessarily mean house, but can mean household, as in vayishma beis Paroh. It means that the people of Paroh’s household heard; it doesn’t mean yeish aznayim la’kir.


A homeless person does not light Ner Chanukah. We don’t find such an obligation anywhere in hilchos Chanukah.

We can ask the following: is it that he is not at all obligated to light, or is it that he is obligated, just he happens to be lacking the means (i.e. the requisite place) to fulfill the mitzvah?

Tosafos asks why Chazal only enacted a bracha for someone who sees Ner Chanukah (under certain circumstances), whereas there is no birchas ha’roeh for other mitzvos. One of the answers Tosafos suggests is that there are many people who do not have a home and therefore cannot fulfill the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah. Tosafos, though, rejects this answer because what about mezuzah? Why didn’t Chazal enact a birchas ha’roeh for homeless people when they see a mezuzah?

This comparison of Tosafos makes it clear that they hold that just like by mezuzah, one who does not have a home is not at all obligated in the mitzvah, so too with Ner Chanukah, one who does not have a home is not at all obligated in the mitzvah. Otherwise, they could have given a very simple answer: Chazal only enacted birchas ha’roeh for Ner Chanukah because the homeless person is essentially obligated in it, whereas by mezuzah he has no obligation whatsoever. The fact that Tosafos did not say such an answer makes it clear that they hold that Ner Chanukah is just like mezuzah in that, without a house, there is no obligation whatsoever.

The Rambam, though, seems to hold differently. The Rambam writes that one is not obligated to live in a house in order to fulfill the mitzvos of mezuzah and maakeh, unlike mitzvos such as teffilin and lulav regarding which it is an absolute obligation to fulfill them. The Rambam then extends this distinction of absolutes vs. non-absolutes to mitzvos d’Rabbanan as well. Washing, the Rambam gives as an example, is not absolute, because you don’t have to eat bread (most days) in order to obligate yourself to wash. In the list of examples of absolutes in mitzvos d’Rabbanan, the Rambam includes Ner Chanukah.

You see, then, that the Rambam holds that a homeless person is obligated to see to it that he finds a home to live in during Chanukah in order to fulfill the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah. The other option, if you are perhaps so inclined, is to say that the Rambam would hold that he has to light wherever he happens to find himself, even on a park bench.

But we do not find such an option anywhere in hilchos Chanukah.

The Ran also seems to imply that Ner Chanukah is inextricably bound up with a home. He says that the chiddush of the obligation of a guest in Ner Chanukah is that you should not think that it is like mezuzah. If one lives in a Jewish-owned home for a few days, he is not obligated in mezuzah unless he is a renter.  When it comes to Ner Chanukah, though, even though he is only a guest, he is obligated.

The most straightforward understanding of what the Ran means is this: we may have thought that just being in a home does not automatically obligate one in the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah, that just like mezuzah he is only obligated if he is a renter; kah mashmah lan the Gemara that when it comes to Ner Chanukah, just being in a home makes him obligated.

This implies that without a home, one cannot light Ner Chanukah.


Preparing the Candles

“We were learning Maseches Pesachim,” related a talmid, “and Rav Twersky excitedly brought our attention to the fact that from the pirush of Rabbeinu Dovid on daf zayin it is clear that setting up the neiros oneself is a part of the mitzvah.  Someone figured that Rav Twersky would thus disapprove of the recent innovation of pre-prepared oil neiros that you can just snap off the top and they’re ready to go.  He said, “So Rebbi is saying that the new ready-made neiros are not good?”  Rav Twersky quickly responded, “I didn’t say that, I didn’t say that!”  Suddenly, the bachur sitting right next to Rav Twersky burst out laughing.  We later found out the reason.  Immediately after he emphatically insisted “I didn’t say that!”, he added under his breath, “at least not today.”  He was so careful to not say anything that could even be misconstrued as untrue.”

(Related by Reb Avrohom Rudner)

In later years, Rav Twersky did explicitly discourage usage of the ready-made neiros, telling his talmidim that setting up the neiros yourself is an important part of the mitzvah.

(Related by the editor)


The Scent of Mashiach…

Rav Twersky would often mention the concept discussed by the masters of Chassidus that during the days of Chanukah, great tzaddikim can detect the scent of Mashiach. One time his youngest son, Reb Avrohom, posed on innocent question to his father about this on a Friday night after Rav Twersky had returned from Shul and enthusiastically reminded everyone about this idea before commencing with shalom aleichem. Avrohom was a very little boy at the time. Precocious enough to have caught the gist of what his father had said and uninhibited enough to voice his thoughts, he piped up: “Tatty, can Zeide (referring to Rav Abba Berman zt”l) smell the scent of Mashiach?” To which Rav Twersky responded, “Could be.”  Then Avrohom asked: “Tatty, can you smell the scent of Mashiach on Chanukah?”  Rav Twersky declined to answer the question and instead immediately commenced with singing shalom aleichem.

(Related by Reb Yecheskel Lang)

Provided courtesy of