– Author: Rav Jeremy Koolyk

Each night of Chanukah, as the lights are kindled, we recited the paragraph of “Haneirot Halalu.” In that paragraph we declare, “הנרות הללו קודש הם ואין לנו רשות להשתמש בהם,” “these candles are holy and we are not permitted to use them.” In this article, we will explore the source, reason, and scope of this principle.

In point of fact, the Gemara[1] records that whether it is permissible to use the light of the Chanukah candles for personal benefit is actually subject to a dispute between the Amoraim. Rav Huna and Rav Chisda hold “mutar lehishtamesh l’orah,” it is permissible to use its light, while Rav holds “assur l’hishtamesh l’orah,” it is forbidden to use its light. Shulchan Aruch,[2] following the consensus of the Rishonim, rules in accordance with Rav that one may not benefit from the light of the Chanukah candles.

The She’iltot D’rav Achai Gaon[3]  seems to have a unique understanding of the opinion of Rav. He rules that the leftover oil from each day’s candles may be used for the Chanukah candles of the subsequent days. However, any leftover oil after the eighth night must be burned since the oil has been designated for the mitzvah (huktzah l’mitzvato). Apparently, the She’iltot understood that Rav prohibited the use of Chanukah candle light because the oil is designated specifically for the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah. Additionally, the She’iltot understood that this status of “mitzvah oil” is held not only during the time of the mitzvah, but remains even after the conclusion of Chanukah.[4]

The Rif[5] appears to understand Rav differently. Although he codifies Rav’s opinion of “assur l’hishtamesh l’orah,” he writes that after the candles have burned for the requisite amount of time (shiur), it is permissible to extinguish them or use them for one’s own benefit. It seems that according to the Rif, Rav only prohibited use of the candles during the actual performance of the mitzvah; after that point, however, the oil holds no special “mitzvah oil” status and can be appropriated for personal use.

Indeed, the Ramban[6] and Ran[7] write explicitly that the opinions of the She’iltot and the Rif are incompatible with each other. The She’iltot holds that the oil is “huktzah l’mitzvato,” designated for the mitzvah purpose, while the Rif disagrees and would therefore permit the use of leftover oil.

However, several of the poskim who lived after the She’iltot and Rif saw no contradiction. The Rosh,[8] followed by the Tur[9] and Shulchan Aruch,[10] adopted both the position of the She’iltot and of the Rif. How are these two positions reconcilable? How can one simultaneously maintain that the oil is “huktzah l’mitzvato” and that the oil may be benefited from after the shiur has elapsed?

Three classical approaches to reconcile these two positions will be presented. A fourth approach, which delves into the rationale behind the prohibition to benefit from the Chanukah candles, will then be presented last.

Three Classical Approaches

The answer most popular among the commentaries[11] focuses on when the Chanukah candles become extinguished. When the She’iltot categorizes the leftover oil as “huktza l’mitzvato,” he refers to a case in which the candles became extinguished before they burned for the requisite shiur; in this case, the remaining oil may not be used for personal benefit since it has already been designated for the mitzvah. Extra oil beyond that which is needed for the required shiur, though, was never designated for mitzvah use and can therefore be used for personal benefit. According to this understanding, if the lights become extinguished before they have been lit for the correct amount of time, the remaining oil may only be used for subsequent days of Chanukah or disposed of via burning. If they become extinguished after the required shiur, the remaining oil has no special status and can used for any purpose. This is wholly compatible with the Rif’s opinion that after the candles have burned for the requisite shiur, one can benefit from them.

Another explanation, put forth by Rav Yitzchak Abuhav[12] and endorsed by the Bach,[13] distinguishes between unspecified intention and specified intention. According to this view, the She’iltot prohibits using the leftover oil for other purposes when the candles were originally lit with unspecified intention (stam da’at). In the absence of a specific condition, the operating assumption is that one designates all of the oil in the candles for the mitzvah use. The Rif, who permits personal use of the oil remaining after the candles have been lit for the proper shiur, does so only in a case where one had specific intention at the time of lighting to only designate the amount of oil necessary for the mitzvah as “mitzvah oil.” Thus, the views of the She’iltot and the Rif are not contradictory.[14]

A third approach, advanced by the Ateret Zekeinim[15] based on the Abudraham, posits that the She’iltot never meant to prohibit using the leftover oil for personal use. One is perfectly permitted to use the leftover oil for personal benefit. However, if one is not interested in using the oil and rather desires to dispose of the oil, it must be done in a respectful way, such as burning. Most mitzvah objects (cheftzot shel mitzvah) are classified as “tashmishei mitzvah,” objects which service mitzvot. These objects, such as a lulav, etrog, or tzitzit, may technically be discarded in any way after the mitzvah is performed.[16] However, some objects are endowed with the higher status of “tashmishei kedusha” because they contain the name of Hashem within them. These objects, which include tefillin, mezuzot, and sifrei Torah, possess  an inherent sanctity and when they become obsolete, they must be disposed of respectfully by burying them. Because the oil is reminiscent of the oil used for the menorah in the Beit Hamikdash, it was given the special status of a “tashmish kedusha.” The oil must therefore be disposed of in a respectful manner, namely by burning it separately.

The Approach of the Avnei Nezer

The Avnei Nezer[17] offers a fascinating analysis which focuses on the reason and scope of the prohibition to benefit from the Chanukah candles according to the various Rishonim. His penetrating analysis explains not only why the Rosh adopted both the positions of the She’iltot and the Rif, but also why the Ramban and Ran thought that the two positions were irreconcilable. It is first necessary to probe another Gemara which deals with usage of the Chanukah candles for purposes other than the mitzvah.

The Gemara[18] states:

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב אסי (אמר רב): אסור להרצות מעות כנגד נר חנוכה…שלא יהו מצות בזויות עליו.

“Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav Assi: it is forbidden to count money in front of the Chanukah candles… so that mitzvot do not become degraded in his eyes.”

According to Rav Assi, using the Chanukah lights to count one’s money is forbidden because it is degrading to the mitzvah. The Gemara explains that the source of this prohibition of degrading a mitzvah (bizuy mitzvah) is the Torah’s requirement that one perform the mitzvah of kisuy hadam, covering the blood of a slaughtered bird or undomesticated animal, by spreading dirt over the blood with one’s hand as opposed to kicking dirt over the blood with one’s foot.

Rav Assi’s ruling raises several basic questions. If Rav Assi agrees with Rav[19] that there is a general prohibition to use the lights of the Chanukah candles, what does he add by giving the specific example of counting money? And if, on the other hand, he agrees with Rav Huna and Rav Chisda that one may derive personal benefit from the Chanukah candles, why does he forbid using the light to count money? In other words, what is the relationship between this statement of Rav Assi and the previous Gemara that discussed the dispute between those who hold assur l’hishtamesh l’orah those who hold mutar l’hishtamesh l’orah?

The Rosh[20] answers that Rav Assi really agrees with Rav’s statement of assur l’hishtamesh l’orah. The reason for the prohibition to use the Chanukah candles is that an onlooker who sees one using the candles for mundane purposes will conclude that these lights were not kindled for the sake of the mitzvah but rather just for illumination. Because we have a vested interest in pirsumei nisa, publicizing of the Chanukah miracle, using the light for ordinary purposes was prohibited so that it would be abundantly clear to all observers that the candles were lit in the performance of the mitzvah in order to commemorate the Chanukah miracle.

However, this reason only justifies prohibiting the use of the Chanukah candles for a tashmish kavua, a substantial activity. One who sees someone using candles for a protracted, mundane endeavor, such as for illumination at a meal, may very well conclude that the candles are just ordinary candles. But this rationale would not warrant prohibiting the use of the Chanukah candles for a tashmish arai, an insubstantial activity, because the fleeting use of the Chanukah candles for a mundane purpose does not give the onlooker the false impression that the candles were not lit for the sake of the mitzvah. Rav Assi therefore expands upon Rav’s prohibition based on the concept of bizuy mitzvah; even the use of the Chanukah candles for a mundane tashmish arai, such as counting one’s money, is prohibited because such a use degrades the mitzvah. Based on the language of Rav Assi (“kenegged ner Chanukah”), the Rosh infers that using the candles for a tashmish arai is only problematic when the activity is conducted in close proximity to the candles. Presumably, his reasoning is that the concept of bizuy mitzvah only prohibits degrading a mitzvah in an obvious manner. Thus, according to the Rosh, using the candles for a tashmish kavua is prohibited at any distance to ensure that the candles are recognizable as mitzvah candles, and use even for a tashmish arai is prohibited in close proximity to the candles because of bizuy mitzvah.

The Ramban[21] takes a very similar approach to that of the Rosh. He agrees that Rav’s prohibition was based on the concern that observers would not recognize the candles as Chanukah candles and therefore only applies to activities categorized as tashmish kavua. Rav Assi then comes to add that tashmish arai is also prohibited because it constitutes bizuy mitzvah. However, the Ramban[22] disagrees with the Rosh’s assertion that bizuy mitzvah only prohibits activities conducted in close proximity to the candles. Rather, according to the Ramban, using the Chanukah candles for a tashmish arai is prohibited at any distance. Presumably, his logic is that any degradation of a mitzvah, obvious or otherwise, is included in the injunction against bizuy mitzvah. Thus one who re-purposes the Chanukah light for any mundane activity—even a tashmish arai, and certainly a tashmish kavua—is guilty of bizuy mitzvah. The upshot of the Ramban’s explanation is that a tashmish arai is prohibited at any distance because of bizuy mitzvah, and a tashmish kavua is prohibited at any distance for two reasons, to maintain the appearance to onlookers as candles lit for the mitzvah and because of bizuy mitzvah.

The Ran[23] takes a third approach. According to the Ran, both statements, even that of Rav, revolve around bizuy mitzvah. Rav holds that because the Chanukah candles are commemorative of the menorah’s miraculous oil, the Chachamim gave the Chanukah oil the same status as menorah oil, which cannot be used at all for other purposes. Rav Assi’s ruling adds that even a tashmish arai by light of the Chanukah candles contravenes this special status of the oil and is therefore prohibited. Thus, according to the Ran, using the light of the Chanukah candles for both a tashmish kavua and tashmish arai is prohibited because of bizuy mitzvah.

With this Machloket Rishonim in mind, it is now possible to return to the She’iltot and the Rif. The Rif rules that after the Chanukah candles have burned for the requisite amount of time, a fundamental change occurs: The candles change from assur l’histameseh l’orah to mutar l’hishtamesh l’orah. It is now permissible to use the light of the candles for mundane purposes, even for a tashmish kavua like eating a meal. Essentially, the prohibition which existed until this point is now lifted. Which prohibition is it that was lifted? The answer to that depends on the approaches in the Rishonim as to why a tashmish kavua was prohibited in the first place. According to the Rosh, a tashmish kavua at a distance from the candles was only ever prohibited to ensure that onlookers would know that the candles were for the purpose of the mitzvah. Now that the oil has burned for the requisite shiur and the mitzvah has concluded, this is no longer of concern and the prohibition is lifted. There is no evidence, however, that the Rif permits the prohibition of bizuy mitzvah after the candles have burned for the shiur. It is plausible that even after the mitzvah is over, the oil still retains the status of mitzvah oil such that it would be prohibited to degrade it by, say, counting money in close proximity to its light. Thus, there is room to also adopt the position of the She’iltot that the remaining oil is “huktzah l’mitzvato” in the sense that bizuy mitzvah would still be prohibited.

According to the Ramban and Ran, though, if one accepts the ruling of the Rif, it is untenable to also accept the ruling of the She’iltot. Using the lights for a tashmish kavua, according to the Ramban, was prohibited for two reasons, the reason presented by the Rosh and because of bizuy mitzvah. Thus, according to the Ramban’s understanding, if one is permitted to use the lights for a tashmish kavua after the candles have burned for the required shiur, it must be that the prohibition of bizuy mitzvah no longer applies to the remaining oil. In other words, because the remaining oil does not have the status of mitzvah oil, there is nothing wrong with degrading it. This clearly does not conform to the position of the She’iltot that the remaining oil is huktzah l’mitzvato. The same reasoning certainly also applies to the Ran. According to the Ran, the use of the lights for a tashmish kavua was prohibited solely because of the issue of bizuy mitzvah. Thus, the Rif’s ruling that a tashmish kavua becomes permitted after the conclusion of the mitzvah certainly implies that bizuy mitzvah is no longer relevant to the remaining oil. This, again, is incompatible with the She’iltot’s view that the oil retains its status of mitzvah oil even after Chanukah ends.

The deep insights of the Avnei Nezer both clarify the underlying reasoning and scope of the prohibition to benefit from the Chanukah candles, as well as explain why some Rishonim embraced both the positions of the She’iltot and the Rif while others saw a basic contradiction between the two positions.

[1] Shabbat 21a-b

[2] O.C. 673:1

[3] Parshat Vayishlach, She’ilta 26. See, however, Mordechai, Shabbat 265, who quotes this statement in the name of Pesikta Rabbati, and Tosafot, Shabbat 44a, s.v. “sheb’ner,” who quote it in the name of a baraita.

[4] See Ramban, Shabbat 21b, s.v. “umatzati” and Tosafot, Shabbat 44a, s.v. “sheb’ner” as to why Chanukah candles differ from Sukkah decorations, which may be benefited from after the conclusion of Sukkot.

[5] Shabbat 9a

[6] Shabbat 21b, s.v. “umatzati

[7] Shabbat 9a in pagination of the Rif, s.v. “ee nami

[8] Shabbat 2:1 and 2:9

[9] O.C. 672 and 677

[10] O.C. 672:2 and 677:4

[11]  Maharam, quoted in Mordechai, Shabbat 266 and Hagahot Maimoniot to Rambam, Hilchot Chanukah 4:5; Shiltei Gibborim to Rif, Shabbat 9a; Beit Yosef O.C. 677; Darkei Moshe 672:2 and 677:5; Tiferet Shmuel 2:8; Korban Netanel 2:9

[12]  Quoted by Beit Yosef, O.C. 677

[13]  O.C. 677:5

[14]  Mishna Berura 672:7 writes that lechatchila, it is proper to be stringent like this opinion and explicitly say that one only designates the amount of oil required for the shiur for the mitzvah.

[15]  O.C. 677:5

[16]  Megilla 26b

[17]  Teshuvot Avnei Nezer 496, especially numbers 2-4, 6-9.

[18]  Shabbat 22a

[19]  The question is even more prominent according to the Rishonim whose tradition was that this statement was made in the name of Rav and not Rav Assi. See Rif 9b.

[20]  Shabbat 2:6

[21]  Milchamot Hashem, Shabbat 9a

[22]  Chiddushim, Shabbat 21b

[23]  9a in pagination of the Rif, s.v. “shema mina

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