Kabbalat Shabbat--Shabbat Hanukkah

Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation B’nai Israel
December 7, 2018

We all know the story of Hanukkah. They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat greasy foods. Or wait, they tried to destroy the Temple, we won, found some oil, Gd made it last a week, let’s have some doughnuts. In a moment I want to talk about the blessings of the candles, but first I want to share an alternative Hanukkah story--or at least the origin of all of the other festivals of light that also happen at this time of year.

In the tractate of Talmud about idolatry, Avodah Zarah, there is a story about Adam haRishon, the first person and his first experience with seasons--maybe the garden of Eden was in Florida?

Avodah Zarah 8a:7-8:
With regard to the dates of these festivals, the Sages taught: When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: “And to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer. Once he saw that the season of Tevet, i.e., the winter solstice, had arrived, and saw that the day was progressively lengtheningafter the solstice, he said: Clearly, the days become shorter and then longer, and this is the order of the world. He went and observed a festival for eight days. Upon the next year, he observed both these eight days on which he had fasted on the previous year, and these eight days of his celebration, as days of festivities. He, Adam, established these festivals for the sake of Heaven, but they, the gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship.

Powerful story, right? Knowing that we have these different narratives, I want to look for a moment about the blessings of the Hanukkah candles. Since there is no Talmud for Hanukkah--it is instead discussed in Tractate Shabbat, when they talk about lighting lights before Shabbat begins.
Photo from CBI's Hanukkah party Sunday night

אמר רב חייא בר אשי אמר רב המדליק נר של חנוכה צריך לברך ורב ירמיה אמר הרואה נר של חנוכה צריך לברך אמר רב יהודה יום ראשון הרואה מברך שתים ומדליק מברך שלש מכאן ואילך מדליק מברך שתים ורואה מברך אחת מאי ממעט ממעט זמן ונימעוט נס נס כל יומי איתיה
Rav Ḥiyya bar Ashi said that Rav said: One who lights a Hanukkah light must recite a blessing. And Rabbi Yirmeya said: One who sees a burning Hanukkah light must recite a blessing because the mitzva is not only to kindle the light but to see the light as well. Therefore, there is room to recite a blessing even when seeing them. Rav Yehuda said: On the first day of Hanukkah, the one who sees burning lights recites two blessings, and the one who lights recites three blessings. From there on, from the second day of Hanukkah, the one who lights recites two blessings, and the one who sees recites one blessing. The Gemara asks: What blessing does he omit on the other days? The Gemara answers: He omits the blessing of time: Who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this time. The Gemara asks: And let us omit the blessing of the miracle: Who has performed miracles. The Gemara answers: The miracle is relevant on all of the days, whereas the blessing: Who has given us life, is only pertinent to the first time he performs the mitzva each year.

מאי מברך מברך אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו להדליק נר של חנוכה והיכן צונו רב אויא אמר מלא תסור רב נחמיה אמר שאל אביך ויגדך זקניך ויאמרו לך

And what blessing does one recite? He recites: Who has made us holy through His commandments and has commanded us to light the Hanukkah light. The Gemara asks: And where did He command us? The mitzva of Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Torah, so how is it possible to say that it was commanded to us by God? The Gemara answers that Rav Avya said: The obligation to recite this blessing is derived from the verse: “You shall not turn aside from the sentence which they shall declare unto you, to the right, nor to the left” (Deuteronomy 17:11). From this verse, the mitzva incumbent upon all of Israel to heed the statements and decrees of the Sages is derived. Therefore, one who fulfills their directives fulfills a divine commandment. Rav Neḥemya said that the mitzva to heed the voice of the Elders of Israel is derived from the verse: “Ask your father, and he will declare unto you, your Elders, and they will tell you” (Deuteronomy 32:7).

On the first night of Hanukkah we have 3 blessings, “who has commanded us to light these Hanukkah lights”, “who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in this season”, and “shehekianu, who has sustained us to this day.” These blessings connect the lights to our history, bringing us from now to the past and back again. They remind us that we are Jews ldor vador, from generation to generation, and that by lighting these lights, by celebrating Hanukkah, by proclaiming the miracle, we bring the next generation the inspiration to continue our sacred traditions.

Finally, I want to share a blessing with you from Tractate Shabbat:

Rav Huna said: One who is accustomed to kindle lights on Shabbat and Hanukkah will be rewarded and have children who are Torah scholars, who will disseminate the light of Torah. One who is meticulous in performing the mitzva of mezuza merits a beautiful house on which to affix his mezuza. One who is meticulous in performing the mitzva of ritual fringes merits a beautiful garment. One who is meticulous in performing the mitzva of kiddush of the day merits and fills jugs of wine.

May we all be meticulous in lighting our Hanukkah lights and raise our children and grandchildren to love Torah and become scholars!