1) THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A LARGE FIRE AND A SMALL ONE
QUESTION: The Mishnah lists the types of wicks and oils which may not be used for the Shabbos lights. Since those wicks and oils do not burn well, we fear that one might be tempted to improve the flame and thereby transgress the Melachah of kindling. The Gemara cites a Beraisa that states that one is permitted, however, to make a large fire out of these wicks and oils (for example, to heat one's home on Shabbos or to use its light). Since there is a large amount of fuel for the fire, there is no fear that the flame will dwindle and that one might attempt to fix it.
According to this distinction between a large fire and a small one, why does the Gemara earlier (20b) reject Rebbi Yochanan's statement? Rebbi Yochanan said that when lighting a fire with the "kindling wood of Bavel" prior to Shabbos, one is not required to wait until most of the wood is aflame. The Gemara asks that if, in order to light even a wick before Shabbos, most of it must be aflame, then certainly when lighting a bonfire with the "wood of Bavel" it is necessary that most of it be aflame.
According to the Gemara here, though, a large fire burns better than a small one. Since there is a difference between a large fire and a small one, why does the Gemara challenge Rebbi Yochanan with the assumption that one must be more careful when kindling a large bonfire before Shabbos than when kindling a small flame? (SEFAS EMES, 20b)
ANSWER: When the Gemara here differentiates between a large fire and a small one, it refers to the quality of the flame once it is lit. The flame burns better when it is powered by a large amount of fuel, and therefore one is permitted to light such a fire on Friday to burn during Shabbos. However, it does not catch fire better, and therefore one may only light it on Friday if he ensures that a majority of the fuel will catch fire before Shabbos. (Ibid.)
2) USING BAD WICKS OR OILS FOR THE CHANUKAH LIGHTS
QUESTION: Rav Huna rules that one may not kindle the Chanukah lights with the inferior wicks and oils mentioned in the Mishnah (20b), either on weeknights or on Shabbos. The Gemara explains that the reason why they may not be used on weeknights is because of the rule that if the Chanukah lights go out, one is obligated to rekindle them. Since these inferior wicks and oils are likely to go out, we are concerned that one may neglect to relight them (RASHI). The reason why they may not be used on Shabbos is because Rav Huna maintains that one is permitted to derive benefit from the light of the Chanukah flames, and therefore we are concerned that he might tilt the lamp on Shabbos in order to improve its flame.
How does the Gemara know that Rav Huna maintains that one is permitted to derive benefit from the light of the Chanukah flames? Perhaps he maintains that it is forbidden to use their light, and the reason why these wicks and oils may not be used for the Chanukah lights on Shabbos is for the same reason they may not be used on weeknights! Since one is obligated to rekindle the lights if they go out, we are concerned that the flames made from the inferior wicks and oils will go out, and on Shabbos it is forbidden to rekindle them!
(a) TOSFOS (DH u'Mutar) answers that since Rav Huna specifically mentions Shabbos as well as weeknights, he implies that the reason to prohibit the use of these wicks and oils on Shabbos is separate from the reason to prohibit them on weeknights. That reason is that since it is permissible to use the light of the Chanukah flames, we are concerned that he will tilt the lamp in order to increase the quality of the flame.
(b) The RASHBA explains that in truth we cannot infer from Rav Huna's statement that he permits the use of the Chanukah lights. Nevertheless, the Gemara says that according to Rav Huna one is permitted to use the Chanukah lights because it assumes that Rav Huna maintained the view which his student, Rav Chisda, expressed explicitly, that one is permitted to use the Chanukah lights.
(c) The RAMBAN points out that RASHI seems to suggest another answer to this question. Rashi says that the concern created by the rule that one is obligated to rekindle the Chanukah lights if they are extinguished is that one will forget to rekindle them. The "wrongdoing," so to speak, is not at the moment that he lights with these inferior wicks and oils. Rather, the "wrongdoing" occurs later, when the flames go out and the person neglects to rekindle them (or to fix them, see next Insight). Therefore, on Shabbos -- when there is no obligation to rekindle the Chanukah lights -- one may light with these wicks and oils l'Chatchilah. (The problem with bad wicks is not that the lights will go out, but that if they go out one may forget to rekindle them. Since one is not allowed to rekindle the wicks on Shabbos, he will be considered an "Ones" if the lights go out, and he has not done anything wrong by using the poor wicks.)
3) THE FEAR THAT THE CHANUKAH LIGHTS WILL GO OUT
QUESTION: Rav Huna rules that one may not kindle the Chanukah light with inferior wicks and oils because "if it goes out, one is beholden to [fix] it," and there is a concern that he will neglect rekindling it. However, in the previous Gemara, no mention was made of any concern that the flame of these wicks and oils tends to go out, but only that the flame flickers and does not glow smoothly. Indeed, the Gemara says that the reason why one may not light with these wicks and oils for Shabbos is because the flame flickers and we fear that he might try to fix it. It is not because the flame will go out, leaving the person in the dark on Shabbos! Why, then, is Rav Huna concerned that the flame will go out? (RAV YAAKOV D. HOMNICK, in NACHALAS YAKOV on Maseches Shabbos 1:1)
ANSWER: The BEIS HA'LEVI asks a different question on the words of Rashi. Why are we so concerned that a person will neglect his obligation to relight the Chanukah candles, such that the Rabanan had to forbid lighting them with these wicks and oils? Moreover, why does Rashi write, "Perhaps he will neglect to fix it," and not simply, "Perhaps he will neglect to rekindle it"?
The Beis ha'Levi answers that there really is no fear that the flame will go out and one will neglect to relight it. Rather, since this type of flame tends to flicker, we are concerned that it may dwindle to the point that it does not provide the large flame necessary to publicize the miracle of Chanukah (Pirsum Nes). Since it is still burning, a person will not bother to fix it to make it large, because he will assume that this flame is good enough.
This is why Rashi says that "perhaps he will neglect to fix it," and not "to rekindle it." There is no fear that he will not rekindle it if it goes out entirely.
Rav Homnick suggests that this answers our original question as well. We see from the words of the Beis ha'Levi that the problem with using these wicks and oils on Chanukah is identical to the problem with using them for Shabbos. We are afraid that the flames will flicker, but not that they will go out.
4) "MEHADRIN MIN HA'MEHADRIN"
QUESTION: The Gemara gives three levels for the performance of the Mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights. The third and highest level is "Mehardin Min ha'Mehadrin," or the best way to beautify the Mitzvah, where one lights an additional candle each night (either in progressive order according to Beis Hillel, or in regressive order according to Beis Shamai).
The BRISKER RAV (Chidushei ha'Griz, Hilchos Chanukah) asks how could the Chachamim make an enactment of Hidur Mitzvah, beautifying a Mitzvah, by lighting an additional flame each day? The Gemara in Bava Kama (9b) says that one is obligated to perform Hidur Mitzvah up to a maximum expense of one-third of the cost of the Mitzvah itself. Here, though, the Hidur Mitzvah is much more than one-third of the Mitzvah itself (a total of 36 lights instead of 8)!
(a) RASHI explains that "Mehadrin" does not mean "Hidur" (beautifying). Rather, it refers to those who "pursue" Mitzvos, from the Aramaic root "Hadar" (which is equivalent to the Hebrew "Chozer"). The Chachamim established that there are three distinct ways to fulfill the Mitzvah, and not that the second and third ways are merely embellished ways of performing the Mitzvah.
(b) RABEINU CHANANEL, however, compares this Hidur Mitzvah to the one discussed in Bava Kama. The Brisker Rav in Hilchos Chanukah says that the Hidur Mitzvah in Bava Kama refers to the obligation (that the Chachamim enacted) to spend money for the sake of beautifying a Mitzvah. The Chachamim obligated one to spend only up to a third of the total cost of the Mitzvah. Here, though, there is no obligation to spend more money to do the Mitzvah in a nicer way. Rather, the Chachamim established that if one desires to do the Mitzvah in a nicer way, this is how he should do it.
Why, though, should there be such a large (albeit voluntary) Hidur Mitzvah for this particular Mitzvah, when normally Hidur Mitzvah involves only up to one-third of the cost of the Mitzvah?
The BEIS HA'LEVI suggests the following answer. The Beis Yosef asks the well known question, why do we celebrate eight days of Chanukah if the miracle was for only seven days, since there was enough oil in the jar to last for one day? One answer is that the miracle indeed occurred each day for eight days, because on each day only 1/8th of the jar of oil was poured into the Menorah, and yet it lasted for the entire night.
However, since they were required to pour in enough oil to kindle the Menorah for the entire night, how could they pour in only 1/8th of the normal amount? The answer is that they also made the wicks thinner -- 1/8th of their normal size.
If, however, the wicks were 1/8th of their normal thickness, then what was the miracle that 1/8th of the oil was able to make the Menorah burn the entire night? If the wick was 1/8th of its usual size, and the oil was 1/8th of the usual quantity, it is no miracle that it burned for the normal amount of time! The Beis ha'Levi explains that the miracle was that even though the quantity of oil was less, and the size of the wicks were decreased, the flame that burned was as large and beautiful as always.
Since the miracle involved a beautification of the flame of the Menorah rather than the existence of the flame itself, the Chachamim established a special Hidur Mitzvah in their enactment to kindle Chanukah lights, to commemorate the miracle that occurred!
5) ADDING A CANDLE EVERY DAY
OPINIONS: Beis Hillel maintains that the "Medahrin Min ha'Mehadrin" way to perform the Mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights is to "add progressively" ("Mosif v'Holech"). What exactly does this mean?
(a) The RAMBAM (Hilchos Chanukah 4:1) writes that one who conducts himself according to the Mehadrin Min ha'Mehadrin way of lighting kindles an additional candle for each person in the house each night (for example, if there are ten people in the house, on the second night of Chanukah the head of the house lights 20 candles).
(b) TOSFOS (DH veha'Mehadrin) asks that the entire purpose of adding an extra candle is to show that an additional day of miracle occurred. When one sees 20 candles in someone's house, and 30 candles in someone else's house, he does not recognize that there was an additional day of miracle! Therefore, Tosfos understands that Mehadrin Min ha'Mehadrin means that the head of the house lights one candle for each day of Chanukah that has already passed (according to Beis Hillel), and not one for each person in the household.
How can we answer Tosfos' question on the Rambam's ruling?
The VILNA GA'ON (OC 671) points out an oddity in the words of the RIF here. The Rif's style is to write only Halachic conclusions and rulings. Here, however, the Rif records the story in the Gemara of the two elders of Sidon, one of whom conducted himself like Beis Hillel, and one of whom conducted himself Beis Shamai, who gave reasons for the rulings of Beis Hillel and Beis Shamai. Why does the Rif record this story when it does not seem to have anything to do with the Halachah (it merely expresses the reasons for the Halachah, and it is not the style of the Rif to record reasons)?
The Vilna Ga'on explains that Tosfos' proof for adding only one candle per day per household is based on the first of the two reasons suggested by the Gemara for Mehadrin Min ha'Mehadrin: it is in order to create a feature in the lighting that shows that an additional day of miracle occurred. According to the second reason suggested by the Gemara (Ma'alin b'Kodesh...), there is absolutely no reason to limit the addition to one candle per day per household.
The Rif understands that the two reasons for Mehadrin Min ha'Mehadrin disagree in practice about how to light the extra lights. Should Mehadrin Min ha'Mehadrin be done as Tosfos says (one candle per day per household), or as the Rambam says (one candle for each member of the household per day per household). The Gemara's conclusion can be inferred from the story of the elders of Sidon, which is a "Ma'aseh Rav" (an actual incident in which a certain Halachah was practiced, which carries more weight than a theoretical argument). Since the elder in Sidon ruled that the additional candle is because of Ma'alin b'Kodesh, we should rule like the Rambam and add another candle for each member of the household each day.
This explains why the Rif quotes the story of the two elders (since it affects the Halachic practice), and why the Rambam was not bothered by Tosfos' question (since we rule like the elder of Sidon)!
6) CHANUKAH AND SUKOS
QUESTION: The Gemara says that the reason for Beis Shamai's opinion that one lights Chanukah candles in regressive order (eight on the first night, seven on the second night, and so on) is because the number of cows that were brought as a Korban Musaf each day of Sukos were also brought in descending numbers (thirteen the first day, twelve the second day, and so on). What do the lights of Chanukah have to do with the Korbanos of Sukos?
(a) RABEINU YEHONASAN M'LUNIL explains that on Chanukah, the Chashmona'im felt that the miracle of their triumph was greater than the miracle of Pesach. On Pesach, the physical existence of the Jews was threatened, but during the time of Chanukah, the spiritual existence of the Jews was threatened as well, because the Greeks wanted to obliterate all traces of Jewish practice. As a result, the Chachamim decided to make the festival of Chanukah longer than that of Pesach. They therefore made it as long as the longest festival in the Torah, which is Sukos (8 days).
(b) According to SEFER CHASHMONA'IM (one of the Apocrypha, or non-sacred Kesuvim), the Chashmona'im were unable to observe Sukos properly because of the war. Therefore, they made the Chanukah festival eight days long to compensate for the lost days of Sukos.
7) THE DURATION OF THE MIRACLE OF CHANUKAH
QUESTION: The Gemara says that the jar of oil contained enough oil for one day. Why, then, do we celebrate eight days of Chanukah? We should celebrate only seven days of Chanukah, because the first day was not a miracle! (BEIS YOSEF, OC 670; this is the famous "question of the Beis Yosef.")
ANSWERS: The BEIS YOSEF offers three answers to his question:
(a) They divided the oil into eight parts, so that a miracle indeed occurred every day, when 1/8th of the oil lasted for the entire night.
(b) When they poured out the oil from the jar it remained full, so the miracle was noticeable even on the first night.
(c) After the first night, although they poured all the oil into the Menorah, none of it burned and the Menorah remained full of oil for all eight days.
The Acharonim challenge each of these three answers:
(a) How could they divide the oil into eight parts and use only 1/8th every night? We are required to put enough oil into the Menorah to last the entire night! (They did not know that a miracle was going to occur, and even if they expected one to occur, they would not have been permitted to rely on a miracle.)
(b) If the jar remained full when they poured out the oil, then on the eighth night there was no miracle, because on the eighth night they emptied the jar!
(c) If the oil that had lasted miraculously for seven nights was finally consumed on the eighth night, then on the eighth night there was no miracle!
The TOSFOS HA'ROSH asks the question of the Beis Yosef and gives the same answers, but he makes slight additions in order to avoid the questions of the Acharonim:
(a) The requirement to put in enough oil to burn the entire night applies only when one has enough oil. If one does not have enough oil, it is preferable to put in a little each night and not use up all the oil in one night.
(b) The miracle is that the oil which burned in the Menorah was "miracle oil." Consequently, there was a miracle on the eighth night as well, since the oil that burned on the eighth night was oil that existed only as a result of a miracle. Although on the first night there was no miracle with the oil itself, because the oil itself burned, nevertheless the fact that the oil did not disappear made the miracle-to-be apparent already on the first night.
(c) Even though they filled up the Menorah, only a small amount of the oil (1/8th) burned each night. The Menorah remained lit for the entire night, yet the rest of the oil was not consumed. Accordingly, on the eighth night as well a miracle was experienced, since the Menorah was aflame the entire night even though only 1/8th of the required amount of oil was left.
Other Rishonim suggest other answers to question of the Beis Yosef:
(d) The ME'IRI says that the first day of Chanukah was established to celebrate the redemption from our enemies, and to celebrate the miracle that a jar of oil was found in the first place.
(e) The SHE'ILTOS (Parshas Vayishlach) and SEFER HA'ESHKOL (Hilchos Chanukah) answer that the amount of oil that was found was not even enough for one day. Their text of the Gemara contained the word "Afilu" ("even") instead of "Ela" ("except") in the sentence, "There was not [oil] in it even to light for one day."
(The Acharonim present literally hundreds of other answers to the Beis Yosef's question.)
8) A SEALED JAR OF OIL
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that the jar of oil that the Chashmona'im found was sealed. What difference does it make if the jar of oil was sealed? If a Nochri touches the jar or carries it, it still becomes Tamei!
ANSWER: Although various answers are given by the Rishonim, it could be simply that when the Gemara says that they found "a jar... that was resting in the seal of the Kohen Gadol," it does not mean that the jar itself was sealed, but that the jar was resting in a sealed place, such as an underground safe, so that the Nochrim had no access to it. This is the intention of TOSFOS (DH she'Hayah). This may also be what RASHI (DH b'Chosmo) means when he says, "[The jar of oil was] hidden away, and sealed with his seal, and [therefore] they knew that no one had touched it." (RAV Y.D. HOMNICK in SEFER NACHALAS YAKOV)