Monday, December 29, 2008
Whether to Derive Benefit From the Chanukah Candles (The Inside Story)
I think I found another Kedushas Levi (chelek alef, "Drushim L'Chanukah," 4th piece) that helps explain the nature of the machlokes (dispute) between Crawling Axe and myself in the comment section of this post about when we should teach potential baalei teshuva about the worldly versus spiritual benefits of Torah observance.
The Kedushas Levi gives an insight into the nature of the machlokes between the sages in the Gemara about whether or not one is allowed to receive any type of benefit from the Chanukah candles, which is found in Shabbos 21b.
He explains the dispute through a mashal, a parable. He said that when a King honors a poor man by visiting his home, the poor man will see the great wealth and luxury of the king. He says that it is natural for a poor person to feel happy for the king that he has such amazing and awesome wealth. However, he says that a wise pauper will not feel happy for the king because the king has such wealth, since he knows that to the king, the signs of wealth are like nothing, and are just par for the course. Rather, this pauper's joy is in the fact that the king has honored him by lowering himself to be a guest in the poor man's house. This gives him much more pleasure that merely seeing the king's wealth.
Similarly, it is natural to be impressed by the miracles that Hashem did on Chanukah. However, on a higher level, the greater joy of Chanukah is that Hashem "lowered" himself to get involved in worldly matters to do that miracle. The honor that we feel knowing that Hashem cares enough about us to "get his hands dirty" in our affairs and "go to the trouble" of making miracles for us is a much greater source of joy that the the actual miracle its self. Just like we know that the wealth of the king is just par for the course, and should not be a major source of joy, we know that Hashem can do whatever he wants and so miracles are "no big deal" to him. As Reb Elazar ben Aroch says in Ta'anis 25a, "מי שאמר לשמן וידלוק הוא יאמר לחומץ וידלוק," "the one who can tell oil to burn call also tell vinegar to burn." Therefore, our main joy in the miracles of Chanukah is Hashem's involvement in our lives.
It is the same thing in the dispute about whether one may benefit from the candles. The side that says that one may derive benefit from the candles is similar to the poor man who rejoices in the wealth of the king who comes to visit him. His main joy is in the wonder and amazement in the miracle of the Menorah of Chanukah. Since, according to this type of person, his main joy is in the miracle, he may derive benefit from the candles, since his main joy in Chanukah is with the miracle of the oil on Chanukah.
But the opinion that says that one may not derive benefit from the candles on Chanukah corresponds to the wise pauper whose main joy is in the fact that the king has honored him by visiting him. This person's main joy on Chanukah is the fact that Hashem got involved in history and with the Jewish people by doing the miracle. According to this perspective, it is forbidden to derive any benefit from the Chanukah candles, since one should not get their Chanukah joy from the miracle of the oil on Chanukah, but rather from Hashem's involvement with the Jewish people, as seen through the miracle of the oil.
Crawling Axe suggested that it is inappropriate to (almost) ever focus on what the Torah does for us in this world. But rather, we should only teach people about how the Torah connects us to Hashem. This is like the opinion (which we pasken like) that one should not focus on the wondrous miracles of Hashem, but rather, on Hashem's involvement in our lives.
And I had said, based on the Kedushas Levi, that in the beginning of our own avodas Hashem, and when teaching new and potential Baalei Teshuva, one should teach how keeping the Torah brings one all of the good things of this world (as a precursor to focusing on how the Torah gets one closer to G-d). This would be similar to the opinion that one is allowed to get benefit from the Chanukah candles, when one's main Chanukah joy is in the fact that Hashem did a miracle.
You see that both of these opinions exist in the Gemara and "אלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים," both are the words of the Living G-d (Eruvin 13b). So that even we have to conduct ourselves according to only one side of the dispute about deriving benefit from the candles for practical reasons, there is a place in Torah for the truth of both opinions. And this could be related to the fact that the Kedushas Levi recommends that one fight his yetzer hara, at the beginning of his avodah, by focusing on the worldly benefits of Torah.
May we all merit to reach the level of being makir tov, appreciating, Hashem's love for us and involvement with us!
(Picture courtesy of flikr)
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