Since we are approaching the holiday of Chanukah, let us begin discussing some of its pertinent laws based on what we have written in previous years in addition to new some new ideas as well.
When Chanukah Falls Out this Year
The holiday of Chanukah lasts for eight days beginning from the 25th of Kislev, as we shall discuss. This year (5779), the 25th of Kislev will fall out next Monday. Chanukah candles will be lit for the first time next Sunday night. On Sunday night of the following week, Chanukah candles will be lit for the last time this year.
The Miracle of Chanukah
In the Second Temple era, the Greek sovereignty decreed many terrible decrees upon the Jewish people and did not allow them to involve themselves in Torah learning or Mitzvah observance with hopes of making them forget the commandments of the Torah. Additionally, the Greeks entered the Bet Hamikdash and inflicted much damage and disrepair upon it. All this caused tremendous anguish to the Jewish nation until Hashem had mercy on them and brought about salvation to Israel through the sons of the Hashmonai high-priests who defeated and annihilated the Greeks and eventually appointed a member of their own priestly family as king.
When the Hashmonai family entered the recently ruined Temple and wished to light the pure Menorah (candelabra), only one container of pure olive oil, enough to last for only one day, was found. Nevertheless, Hashem performed a miracle and the flames of the Menorah kindled for eight consecutive days until they were able to procure more olives in order to produce more pure olive oil. The day that the single container of pure oil was found was the 25th of Kislev and thus, the Sages of that generation established these eight days, beginning with the 25th of Kislev, as days of thanksgiving and joy. Furthermore, they established that candles should be lit every one of these eight nights in order to publicize this miracle. These days are called “Chanukah.”
Why the Holiday is Called “Chanukah”
Rabbeinu Perachya writes (in his commentary on Shabbat 21b) that the reason why this holiday is called “Chanukah” is because during these days, the Bet Hamikdash was re-inaugurated (which is the definition of the word “Chanukah” in Hebrew) through thanksgiving offerings to Hashem for the miracles He performed for us by allowing the Hashmonai family to defeat the Greek armies who had destroyed the Altar and other portions of the Bet Hamikdash. When the Hashmonai family overcame the Greeks, they renovated the Bet Hamikdash anew and the rededicated it. The entire eight-day period of Chanukah was a time when the Jewish nation returned to the Bet Hamikdash and carried out the required repairs to return it to its original majesty. (Chazon Ovadia-Chanukah, page 6)
Being Meticulous Regarding Lighting Chanukah Candles
One should be extremely meticulous regarding the Mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights, for it is a very beloved Mitzvah since through it we publicize the miracle amid thanks to Hashem. Our Sages teach us (Shabbat 23b) that one who fulfills this Mitzvah properly will merit having children who are Torah scholars. They derived this from the verse (Mishlei 6), “For a Mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light” where Rashi explains that through a candle associated with a Mitzvah (i.e. Chanukah candles) the light of Torah emanates. The Meiri further elaborates that this means that this Mitzvah must be done in a beautified and loving manner.
The Amount of Candles One Should Light
How many candles must one light on the holiday of Chanukah? According to the law, one candle per Jewish household is sufficient, whether the members of the household are few or many. However, it is customary to beautify the Mitzvah by adding one extra candle per night, such that on the last night one would be lighting eight candles (excluding the “Shamash” candle; some Syrian communities have the custom to two additional candles each night of Chanukah, one as the “Shamash” and one commemorating an unrelated miracle that they experienced).
The custom of the Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews is in accordance with the opinion of Maran, whose rulings we have accepted, that only one member of the household lights and thus exempts the other members of the household. Ashkenazim, however, differ in their custom in that every member of the household lights Chanukah candles for themselves.