Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Chanukka Fire

Beit Shammai advise us that we should light Channuka candles in descending order, starting with eight the first night, and progressing to a single light on the final night. Our Halakha follows Beit Hillel who advise us to light 1,2,3,….8. The Gemara presents the logic of each opinion, and yet this machloket has provided ample room for the darshanim to probe the meaning of the Channuka lights. Here is one such explanation.

Fire is something that has potential both for creation and destruction. We harness the energy of combustion to drive our cars and power our electricity. Fire provides heat and light. And yet fire can destroy indiscriminately, burning buildings and lives into oblivion.
The Machloket regarding the number of lights relates to the function and motive of the fire of the Chashmonaim, the spirit of their rebellion.

Beit Shammai sees the fire of the Channuka lights as symbolic of the war waged against Hellenism. The fire purges the impurities burning them out, destroying them. Our Chanukka lights represent the fire that burns out the ideologies and practices that are incompatible with Judaism, and hence, as Chanukka progresses there is less and less to burn, less evil to remove, to eradicate. Judaism emerges purged.

Beit Hillel's fire is a positive force. Beit Hillel say: We do not burn out the evil. We simply begin to light the illuminating fire of Torah. And each night the fire grows in intensity and size. (This idea from R.Zevin – LaTorah Velamoadim.) Our answer to evil is to increase goodness, we fight Hellenism with our Torah.

Do we focus on suppressing the negative, or do we promote and build the positive? The Halakha is like Beit Hillel. And yet, think about it - can one indeed build the positive without removing the negative? Can one create good without fighting evil? Can one create holiness without removing Tum'ah?

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