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Rabbi Raymond Beyda


There is a well-known difference of opinion as to what is the preferred way to light the lights of Hanukkah. The Yeshivah of Bet Hillel says light one light the first night and add 1 additional light each night thereafter. The Yeshivah of Bet Shammai says one should light eight lights the first night and decrease the number each night by one until only one light is lit on the eighth day. We, of course, follow the opinion of Bet Hillel and add a light nightly until the final night when we enjoy the sight of a full 8 lights.

Their dispute can be explained if we look at the nature of fire. Fire can produce holiness through its power to consume. Offerings were brought on the Temple alter which achieved atonement for the one bringing the sacrifice. The fire consumed the wickedness and produced a pure white smoke. Fire, on the other hand, can be the source of light. Light represents the Torah's power to illuminate the darkness of doubt and evil and lead a person to a holy path of observance. These two aspects were the essence of the Hanukkah miracle. The Jewish people had to eradicate and burn the evil influences of the Hellenist society while rededicating our commitment to Torah values. We, by lighting our lights, achieve both purposes. We commemorate the eradication of the evil and the commitment to the good.

Although we need both which is paramount? Bet Shammai say one must purify them self from the evil before any positive growth can be implemented and achieved. One who is not pure of heart cannot enter the world of pure Torah study. He or she faces the strong possibility of misinterpreting the truths of the Torah. Bet Hillel agrees with Bet Shammai in principle but feel that one cannot afford to wait until one is totally pure before beginning one's quest for the holiness of the Torah. If one waits to get rid of ALL of the bad one may never get to start one's journey on the road to spirituality. Bet Hillel says accentuate the positive -- the light -- and start your climb, while working on purifying oneself from the impurity.

Some people make the mistake in thinking that the fullness of Torah is for Rabbis and Scholars not "regular" people. This is not true. One must commit to a life of growth and a quest for the truth that only the whole Torah can offer. Yes, one must work on eliminating bad habits and bad ideas, but one must patiently add to one's light of understanding of Misvot and ethics on a daily basis --one day at a time. It only takes a minute to commit but it takes a lifetime of daily growth to complete the task.


There is a custom to distribute money to children on Hanukkah [not necessarily presents]. (Source Kaf Hahayim Siman 670:4). The reason is that the Greeks tried to dissuade our children from the learning of Torah so that they would assimilate; therefore they were given money [as a prize] to encourage them to learn. This is in keeping with the interpretation of Maimonides who says that a teacher should tell a child " Learn this chapter or this Mishna and I will give you a dollar". Therefore the custom developed to give children money on Hanukkah to encourage them to learn Torah. {Source, Halakha V'Ta-ameha, Hanukkah chap 2:16]

Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Raymond Beyda and



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