Shiur 07:Lighting from Candle to Candle

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

*  Based on a shiur by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

            It happens not infrequently during the lighting of Chanuka candles that the candle being using to light the other candles blows out, and the lighter wants to relight that candle from one of the candles that had already been lit. In this shiur we shall deal with the question whether or not it is permissible to light one Chanuka candle from another, and by way of this question, we shall come to another, more fundamental question: What is the nature of the custom of the zealous (mehadrin) and the extremely zealous (mehadrin min ha-mehadrin)?

 

INTRODUCTION

 

            as an introduction to this shiur, let us bring the gemara describing the obligation to light Chanuka candles, and the customs of the mehadrin and the mehadrin min ha-mehadrin (Shabbat 21b):

 

Our Rabbis taught: The mitzva of Chanuka [demands] one light for a man and his household;  the zealous [kindle] a light for each member [of the household]; and the extremely zealous… On the first day one [candle] is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased.

 

            One of the most basic disputes regarding Chanuka candles is the disagreement about what constitutes the essence of the mitzva: kindling the candles or placing them in the doorway or on the window sill (Shabbat 22b-23a):

 

Does the kindling or the placing constitute the mitzva?… Since we pronounce a benediction, 'Who sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Chanuka candle,' it proves that the kindling constitutes the mitzva. This proves it. - And now that we say that the kindling constitutes the mitzva, if a deaf-mute, idiot, or minor lights it, he does nothing.

 

LIGHTING FROM CANDLE TO CANDLE

 

            We shall open the discussion of the issue of lighting from candle to candle with the practical law, as codified in the Shulchan Arukh and Rema. From there we shall proceed to discuss the foundations of the law in the Gemara. The Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayyim 674:1 rules:

 

One is permitted to light one Chanuka candle from another. But only to light one from the other without an intermediary, but to light one from the other by way of a profane candle is forbidden. And some authorities permit this as well, unless there is reason for concern that the profane candle will blow out before he lights another Chanuka candle.

 

            The Shulchan Arukh rules as a simple matter that it is permissible to light one Chanuka candle directly from another Chanuka candle, and records a dispute regarding the question whether it is permissible to light one Chanuka candle from another by way of a profane candle (to light a profane candle from a Chanuka candle, and then another Chanuka candle from the profane candle). On this point the Rema takes issue:

 

It is customary to practice stringency regarding Chanuka candles not to light even [directly] from one candle to the other, for the principle mitzva is only one candle, and the rest are not so much part of the mitzva, and therefore one should not light one from the other.

 

            The earliest source regarding our issue is found in the Gemara in tractate Shabbat 22a:

 

It was stated: Rav said: One must not light from candle to candle;  but Shemuel maintained: One may light from candle to candle.

 

            It is not clear from the Gemara which case is being discussed here. It would seem that it is possible to distinguish between various different situations: a person who wishes to light one Chanuka candle from another Chanuka candle on the same Chanukiya; one who wishes to light his Chanuka candle from another person's Chanuka candle; and one who wishes to light the candle in his house from a candle belonging to another person and found in a different house. The Gemara, as we have seen, does not distinguish between the various cases.

 

            Why, according to Rav, is it forbidden to light one Chanuka candle from the next? The Gemara continues with an explanation:

 

One of the Rabbis sat before Rav Adda bar Ahava and sat and said: Rav's reason is on account of the cheapening of the mitzva.

 

            The first reason adduced by the Gemara is "cheapening of the mitzva." "Cheapening of the mitzva" is a general law appearing in the previous passage on the same page, according to which one is forbidden to take an object used for a mitzva and use it for some purpose other than for the mitzva (for example, to count money using the light of a Chanuka candle). Rav expands this law and is concerned about a cheapening of the mitzva even when the Chanuka candle is not being used for an outright profane purpose, but for the purpose of lighting another Chanuka candle.

 

            The Gemara continues and brings an additional rationale for the position of Rav:

 

He said to them: Do not heed him; Rav's reason is because he impairs the mitzva.

 

            What is meant by "impairing the mitzva"? Rashi (s.v. akchushi) explains:

 

For it appears as if he were taking the light and drawing off a bit of the oil.

 

            It is clear from Rashi that not all uses of the candle impair the mitzva, but when a person lights one Chanuka candle from another, it looks as if he were removing some of the light and the oil, and therefore there is here an element of "impairing the mitzva."

 

            What is the practical ramification that differenciates between the two explanations? The Gemara deals with this question in the continuation:

 

Wherein do they differ? — They differ where he lights [directly] from candle to candle. On the view that it is because of the cheapening of the mitzva, one may light [directly] from candle to candle; but on the view that it is because he impairs the mitzva, even [directly] from candle to candle is forbidden.

 

            The Gemara argues that if the rationale is because of a cheapening of the mitzva, then the whole prohibition of lighting one candle from another applies only when he lights the candle by way of another profane candle. But if the kindling is done directly, there is no cheapening of the mitzva. If, on the other hand, the reason is because of an "impairment of the mitzva," then the prohibition applies even to direct kindling.

 

            As we saw in the Gemara, Shemuel disagrees with Rav and says that it is permissible to light from candle to candle. The precise understanding of Shemuel's position depends on how we understand the Gemara's conclusion on p. 22b:

 

What is our decision thereon? — Rav Huna son of Rav Yehoshua said: We consider: if the lighting fulfills the mitzva, one may light from candle to candle; but if the placing [of the lamp] fulfills the mitzva, one may not light from candle to candle.

 

            The Tosafot (ad loc., s.v. mai hava ala) have difficulty understanding the Gemara's question, and conclude that the Gemara knew that the we rule in accordance with Shemuel, that one may light from candle to another, but was in doubt about the precise understanding of his position. If Rav forbids lighting from candle to candle because of a cheapening of the mitzva, and even he permits the direct kindling of one candle from another (because that does not involve a cheapening of the mitzva), then it is clear that Shemuel, who disagrees with him, permits lighting from candle to candle, even by way of an additional candle. If, on the other hand, Rav forbids lighting from candle to candle because of an impairment of the mitzva, then he forbids even the direct kindling of one candle from another, in which case a doubt arises as to the position of Shemuel: Does he only permit the direct kindling of one candle from another, because he too is concerned about a cheapening of the mitzva, or perhaps he has no concerns whatsoever and permits lighting from candle to candle, even by way of an additional candle?

 

            Practically speaking, the Rishonim disagree on the matter, and from here we come to the two positions mentioned by the Shulchan Arukh. It seems that the Rambam and the Ra'avad also disagreed about the issue in Hilkhot Chanuka 4:9:

 

It is permissible to light a Chanuka candle from another candle.

 

On which the Ra'avad comments:

 

And by way of a wood chip.

 

            From the Rambam's silence it would appear that he permits only the direct kindling of one candle to the next, and the Ra'avad disagrees and permits even the lighting of one candle from the other by way of a wood chip.

 

THE POSITION OF THE REMA

 

            We have found then the source for the two positions appearing in the Shulchan Arukh, but what is the source of the ruling of the Rema? According to the Rema, the entire discussion in the Gemara refers to the basic mitzva of "one light for a man and his household," but the additional candles (of mehadrin or mehadrin min ha-mehadrin) are regarded as optional candles in relation to the first candle, and therefore it is forbidden to light them from the first candle even in direct fashion. According to this explanation, the Gemara is talking about a case of two people found on the same level of obligation - for example, where each of them is found in a different house – who wish to light one candle from the other.

 

From where did the Rema draw his position? One possible source is the view of Rabbenu Simcha, cited in Hagahot Maimoniyot in Hilkhot Chanuka:

 

Rabbenu Simcha wrote that if the candle that he was lighting with blew out, he should not relight it with one of the lit candles in order to finish lighting all the candles. But rather he should take one of the lit candles, and light with it all the rest. And so too wrote the Ravya. And even though the Tosafot as well have ruled that it is permissible to light from candle to candle, they nevertheless write that the people are accustomed to practice stringency, and the custom should not be changed.

 

            When we examine the Ravya inside, we see that it is not clear whether he distinguishes between the various Chanuka candles or only between the candles and the shamash (which is profane). The practical ramification between these two possibilities is the question whether it is permissible to light the shamash from the first candle in order to light with it in a different house. The Ravya implies that this is forbidden, because the shamash is a profane candle which may not be lit from a Chanuka candle. But it is possible that according to Rabbenu Simcha this is permissible, for in the end we light one first candle from another first candle, so that the level of the mitzva does not go down. Either way, the view of Rabbenu Simcha can serve as a source for the Rema's ruling that distinguishes with respect to the different levels of obligation between the different Chanuka candles.[1]

 

            The words of the Rema which distinguish between lighting from candle to candle on one level of the mitzva and lighting from candle to candle on two levels of the same mitzva raise two related questions:

 

1)     Is it permissible to light from the candle of one mitzva to the candle of a different mitzva, or perhaps it is only permissible to light from the candle of a mitzva to another candle of the same mitzva?

 

2)     What is the gap between the levels of obligation that forbids the lighting of candle to candle? Perhaps there can be two candles at levels of obligation that are close, but not identical, and it is permissible to light from one to the other?

 

THE STATUS OF THE KINDLING ACCORDING TO THE POSITOIN THAT "THE PLACING CONSTITUTES THE MITZVA"

 

            There might be a hint in the Gemara that one is only permitted to light from candle to candle for the purpose of lighting the first candle – the essence of the mitzva:

 

What is our decision thereon? — Rav Huna son of Rav Yehoshua said: We consider: if the lighting fulfills the mitzva, one may light from candle to candle; but if the placing [of the lamp] fulfills the mitzva, one may not light from candle to candle. For the scholars propounded: Does the kindling or the placing constitute the precept?

 

            If we maintain that "the placing constitutes the mitzva," that is to say, that the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles is completed when we place the Chanukiya in its proper place, then what is the status of the kindling? Is the kindling not a mitzva at all, its objective being merely to create a lit Chanuka candle (similar to baking matza), or perhaps the kindling as well constitutes the fulfillment of a mitzva at some level? If we accept the first understanding, it is clear that one is forbidden to light from candle to candle, for the kindling is not regarded as a mitzva whatsoever; but if we accept the second understanding, then perhaps it is permissible to light from candle to candle, for the kindling constitutes a "mitzva act" at a certain level. Indeed, Rashi (s.v. ein madlikin) accepted the second understanding, but still wrote that it is forbidden to light from candle to candle:

 

Because the kindling is not a mitzva to such an extent.

 

            Rashi implies that even according to the opinion that "the placing constitutes the mitzva," there is an element of mitzva even in the kindling, but this element is not at a sufficiently high level to permit lighting from candle to candle. Only according to the opinion that "the kindling constitutes the mitzva," that the kindling is the essence of the fulfillment of the mitzva, is it permissible to light from candle to candle.

 

            Now, let us once again distinguish between the various Chanuka candles. It is possible that even after we rule that "the kindling constitutes the mitzva," it is still forbidden to light the rest of the candles from the first candle, because the other candles are at a lower level of obligation. Just as according to the view that "the placement constitutes the mitzva," it is forbidden to light from candle to candle despite the fact that there is a certain obligation even in the kindling, so too according to the view that "the kindling constitutes the mitzva" it might only be permissible to light one from the other in the case of candles that are at the identical level of obligation.

 

THE ASPECT OF OBLIATION REGARDING THE CANDLES USED FOR HIDDUR

 

            It is, however, possible to distinguish and to reject the proposed comparison, based on the Gemara on p. 23a, which states that if the placing constitutes the mitzva, we do not recite the blessing "to light the Chanuka candle." This implies that according to this position, the obligation in the kindling is exceedingly low.

 

            If we come to distinguish between different levels of obligation, we must examine what is the level of obligation of lighting the candles of hiddur: Is it identical with the level of obligation of kindling according to the position that "the placing constitutes the mitzva"? In order to clarify this question, we must examine whether a blessing is recited over the lighting of the additional candles. As we have seen, according to the view that "the placement constitutes the mitzva" – we do not recite a blessing over the kindling, because the level of fulfilling the mitzva is low. If a blessing is not recited over the additional candles, then the level of fulfillment in their kindling is identical to the level of fulfillment of the kindling according to the view that "the placing constitutes the mitzva." But if we recite a blessing over these candles, then their level of fulfillment is higher than the level of fulfillment of the kindling according to the view that "the placing constitutes the mitzva." In effect, it is possible to present this question in another way: Are the additional candles merely hiddur, and therefore there is no blessing, or perhaps they constitute an additional level of fulfilling the mitzva, which is not fulfilled when lighting the first candle, and therefore there is room to recite a separate blessing.

 

            Rabbi Akiva Eiger (no. 676) discusses the issue whether a person who failed to recite a blessing over the first candle can still recite a blessing when he lights the additional candles. He rules that this person can recite the blessing, because we consider also the position that it is permissible to recite a blessing even after the performance of a mitzva.[2] Proof cannot be brought from what he says to our matter, for even if the level of obligation of the additional candles is low - it is possible, according to him, to recite a blessing at the time of their lighting over the lighting of the first candle.

 

The Ba'al Ha-Ma'or, Rabbenu Tam and other Rishonim all rule that it is possible to recite a blessing over "remnants of a mitzva" (shayyarei mitzva). The source of this law is in the question how is it possible to recite a blessing over the lulav; for as soon as a person takes the lulav in his hand, he already fulfills his obligation. They explain that it is possible to recite the blessing over the waving of the lulav, because it constitutes "remnants of the mitzva." According to them, it may be possible to recite a blessing over the lighting of the other candles, even if the level of obligation in this lighting is low, because they are regarded as "remnants of the mitzva."

 

            Another expression of this issue is the question regarding a person who lit only one candle with a blessing, and afterwards found additional candles – should he light them with a blessing? The answer to this question might serve as a good criterion for establishing the nature of the obligation to light the additional candles, for in the parallel case regarding a lulav (a person who took a lulav, recited a blessing, and only afterwards waved it) a blessing is certainly not recited over the waving by itself.

 

            The Orchot Chayyim discusses this question, arguing that in such a case one should light the additional candles without a blessing. He does not discuss the level of obligation of the additional candles, but rather explains his ruling from a different direction: According to him, the blessing recited over the first candle relates to all the candles that he is obligated to light, "the first one exempts the last one." The Orchot Chayyim implies that, fundamentally, one would be obligated to recite a blessing over the additional candles as well, were it not for the fact that the first blessing relates to all the candles. Thus it follows that if the first blessing would not relate to all the candles, one would indeed be obligated to recite a blessing over the additional  candles. If this is correct, then the level of obligation regarding the additional candles is high enough, acccording to him, to obligate a blessing, and it would appear that lighting from the first candle to the additional candles, according to this position, would not be regarded as "a cheapening of the mitzva."

 

It should be noted, however, that some Acharonim, including the Peri Chadash, disagreed with the Rema and said that we do not distinguish between the different candles regarding lighting from one candle to another. As we have seen, this issue may depend on how we understand the nature of the law of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin: Is it an addition to the mitzva, similar to blowing a beautiful shofar, based on "This is my God, and I will beautify Him," or perhaps it involves a new definition of the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles.

 

It may be noted parenthetically that the Acharonim distinguish between the first candle and the rest of the candles regarding various issues, but do not deal directly with the relationship between the basic mitzva and the hiddur. Thus, for example, the Gemara discusses a person who does not have sufficient resources, and must decide whether to invest what money that he has in Chanuka candles or in wine for Kiddush. The Shulchan Arukh rules that a Chanuka candle takes precedence over Kiddush wine, and the Magen Avraham notes that it is only the first Chanuka candle that comes before Kiddush wine. The discussion here is about the relative priority given to different mitzvot, and therefore only the basic level of the mitzva sets aside the performance of a different mitzva. But the discussion has no ramifications regarding the relationship between the basic mitzva and its embellishment.

 

THE NATURE OF THE OBLIATION OF MEHADRIN

 

            The Magen Avraham writes with respect to the words of the Rema, that what he says relates also to the first candles of all the other members of his household, who light because of the law of mehadrin. It is even forbidden to light from the first candle of the first lighter to the first candles of other lighters. There is, however, room to question this ruling: Even if we assume that the additional candles of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin are at a lower level of obligation than the first candle, it is still possible that the level of obligation of the first candles of all the lighters is identical.

 

            Actually, this question depends on the dispute between the Rishonim regarding the relationship between the level of mehadrin and the level of the basic fulfillment of the lighting. The Rambam writes that the practice of mehadrin is that one person lights candles according to the number of people in his household. According to him, it would seem that the level of mehadrin does not indicate an essential difference in the nature of the mitzva, but merely a change in the number of candles.[3] The simple understanding of the Gemara, however, is that the practice of the "mehadrin" was that each member of the household would light his own candle ("a light for each member [of the household]"). According to this, the level of mehadrin indicates a change to an entirely different nature of the mitzva: Instead of the mitzva being an obligation that falls on the house – "one light for a man and his household," it turns into a personal obligation – "a light for each member [of the household]," and therefore each individual can recite a blessing over the candle that he lights.

 

            We can return to the discussion that we saw above: If a person who lights only the additional candles is not obligated to recite a blessing – then it is clear that those candles are only an addition to the mitzva, and not a new definition thereof, as opposed to "a light for each member [of the household]," where each person recites a blessing over his own lighting. Thus, even if we accept the words of the Rema and forbid the lighting of the other candles from the first candle – we need not necessarily apply them also to the first candles of the rest of the household, and it may be permissable to light other first candles from the first candle of the first lighter.

 

LIGHTING A CANDLE THAT BLEW OUT

 

            Another source that has ramifications regarding the matter under discussion appears in the Mordekhai mentioned earlier. The Gemara records a dispute regarding a candle that blew out, whether or not one is obligated to relight it, and concludes in accordance with Rav that "if it blew out, it does not require his attention." What is the law if a person wishes to relight a candle that blew out, but wishes to light it from another candle?

 

In order to answer this question, we must first examine whether this lighting constitutes the fulfillment of a mitzva at any level. Is the mitzva exclusively in the lighting, so that we do not care at all whether the candle is in fact lit, or does fulfillment of the mitzva in perfect manner require both aspects, an act of lighting and a situation of a lit candle, and the ruling that "if it blew out, it does not require his attention," merely testifies to the fact that the primary obligation is the lighting, and it alone is indispensible even after the fact?

 

The Shulchan Arukh (673:2) rules:

 

The kindling constitutes the mitzva. Therefore, if [the candle] blew out before its time passed, it does not require his attention.

 

            The Shulchan Arukh draws a connection between the question of "if it blew out, it does not require his attention," and the issue of "the kindling constitutes the mitzva." This connection is not necessary, and there are certain Acharonim who disagreed with the Shulchan Arukh. Nevertheless, the Rema there rules in the name of the Rashba as follows:

 

If he wishes to be stringent upon himself and relight it, he should not recite a blessing.

 

From the question that occupied the Rashba, whether one who wishes to be stringent with himself and relight the candle is obligated to recite a blessing, we might understand that the relighting involves a certain fulfillment of a mitzva. And indeed the Magen Avraham rules that in the case where the candle blew out, one is obligated lekhatchila to relight it. It is clear from his words that the relighting involves a certain fulfillment of the mitzva. If so, we must clarify another question: Does the relighting involve sufficient fulfillment of the mitzva to permit lighting from one candle to the next?

 

It is possible to understand the position of the Magen Avraham that while the primary mitzva is the lighting, there is also a cerain fulfillment of the mitzva in the placing. Therefore, there is an obligation at some level that the candle should remain lit, and therefore lekhatchila if it blows out it should be relit. However, the Rashba and the Rema write that the level of obligation of the relighting, based on the law that "the placing constitutes the mitzva," does not suffice to obligate a blessing over the relighting.

 

If indeed the relighting is based on the law that "the placing constitutes the mitzva," we may reach a conclusion whether or not it is permissible to light from candle to candle. The Gemara writes that according to the position that "the placing constitutes the mitzva," it is forbidden to light from candle to candle, and from here it follows that even if one is obligated lekhatchila to relight a candle that blew out because of the rule that "the placing constitutes the mitzva," one is forbidden to light from candle to candle.

 

LIGHTING FROM CANDLE TO CANDLE OF A DIFFERENT MITZVA

 

            Thus far we have dealt with the question of lighting from candle to candle without relating in significant manner to the reason for the prohibition of lighting from candle to candle. The Shulchan Arukh (674:2) writes as follows:

 

There is an authority who says that the synagogue, Shabbat and Chanuka lamps are all a mitzva, and it is permissible to light one from the other.

 

            The Shulchan Arukh implies that there exists a general concept of "a mitzva lamp," and that it is permissible to light one mitzva candle from another. The Rema (ad loc.) rules:

 

And the same applies to a lamp used for Torah study or a lamp for a sick person who needs a lamp. 

 

            It would seem that if it is permissible to light a candle for a sick person from a candle used for a mitzva, then surely it should be permissible to light one Chanuka candle from another. As we have seen, however, the Rema rules that it is permissible to light a candle for a sick person from a Chanuka candle, but it is forbidden to light Chanuka candles one from the other.

 

            The Vilna Gaon disagrees with the Rema, and writes that the words of the Shulchan Arukh in par. 2 are in the name of the Sefer ha-Teruma, who maintains the second position cited by the Shulchan Arukh. According to him, it is permissible to light one candle from another by way of a shamash, because he is not concerned about "cheapening the mitzva" or "impairing the mitzva." According to the first position cited by the Shulchan Arukh, that there is a problem of "cheapening the mitzva," and therefore it is forbidden to light one candle from another by way of a shamash – it is also forbidden to light from a Chanuka candle to another mitzva, because each mitzva constitutes a category of its own (in the words of the Vilna Gaon: "mitzvot nullify each other").

 

            According to the Vilna Gaon, we must examine the issue of lighting from candle to candle from a different perspective. If there is no concern whatsoever of "cheapening the mitzva," then it is permissible to light the other candles from the first candle; but if we are concerned about "cheapening the mitzva," just as it is forbidden to use one mitzva for another mitzva, so too perhaps is it forbidden to use one level of a mitzva to fulfill a lower level of that mitzva. In other words, just as the Vilna Gaon forbids the lighting of a Shabbat candle from a Chanuka candle, because "mitzvot nullify each other," so too it may be forbidden to light the second Chanuka candle from the first Chanuka candle, because the different levels of a mitzva designate for themselves separate categories of obligation.

 

            In any event, what we said in the last paragraph is based on the understanding of the Vilna Gaon, but the Rema himself, as we have seen, rules that it is forbidden to light the other candles from the first candle, but it is permitted to light from it the candles of other obligations. He implies that the additional candles are at a lower level of obligation than the candles of other mitzvot (e.g., the candle of a sick person), and therefore it is forbidden to light the additional candles from the first Chanuka candle. Though there are Acharonim who disagree, it seems that it is right to practice stringency in accordance with the ruling of the Rema, and not to light the additional candles from the first candle.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)     

 

* This lecture was not reviewed by HaRav Lichtenstein.

[1] An additional source for the Rema's ruling is brought by the Bach in the name of the unabridged Mordechai.

[2] This question is reflected in the controversy between the Rambam and the Or Zarua – whether the law that a blessing must be recited "prior to its performance" is valid even after the fact.

[3] According to the Rambam, all the candles of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin are also lit by one person, and so it would appear that even this level does not indicate an essential difference in the nature of the mitzva.