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!

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of flikr)

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Anonymous said...

Is the idea of not using our Chanukah lights for other purposes a hint to us that our lights are holy in exactly the same sense that the original lights in the Beis HaMikdash were? Then other uses could be considered as types of misappropriation or me'ilah.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


That definitely makes sense according to the shita in the Gemara (that we pasken like) that it is asur to be mishtamesh with the light of the neros Chanukah. That is akin to how I have always thought of it as well, on a halachic level.

Although there is another shita in the Gemara that holds that it is mutar, and I have not researched this deeply to know more, on a halachic level, about how that shita views that candles, and why they are mutar to use.

On the level of drush, on which the Kedushas Levi is speaking, he offers his reason. That's why I called it the "inside story," since he's going on the pnimuius haTorah in that halachic dispute.

If anyone knows about why, on a halachic level, the shita that matirs using the candles does so, I'd be curious, as I'm sure Bob would be as well!

-Dixie Yid

Anarchist Chossid said...

I don’t disagree that we need to focus our mind on the goodness of the world. I disagree that we should do it for the sake of the world, rather than for the sake of uniting with Hashem.

After talking about achdus of Hashem in kriyas Shma, we proceed to talk about our cows getting enough grass and our fields getting enough rain. Is this the reward for proclaiming achdus of Hashem?

The answer is: yes, exactly! It is precisely the physical rewards in this world which are the most precious. Not for their physical value, however, but because 1) we need to focus on physical in order to honestly approach Hashem — my cow getting grass makes more sense to me than lights of Atzilus (but again, for the purpose of unity with Hashem), 2) only through the physical, do we get the Essence (and not the Light) of Hashem (through dira b’tachtoinim). So, the grass for the cow is actually holier than the spiritual rewards (“better one good deed…”) — but we seek this grass because this is the only way to reach the Essence of G-d, not for the grass itself.

Anarchist Chossid said...

This is all rather different from the question of what to do when you’re trying to mekarev a person, and the person is so chitzoiniusdik that he doesn’t see anything besides chitzoinius of gashmius. That’s a much more difficult question.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Crawling Axe,

And that's the question I was addressing, mainly, expanding on that Kedushas Levi. It's not so comfortable to say it, but it seems that there is a place to talk about and focus on how keeping the Torah gives on a better worldly life.

By the way, what made my post sound like I might not have written it? Just didn't sound "frum enough"? ;-)

-Dixie Yid

Anarchist Chossid said...

No, I missed the part of you reading the book that juxtaposed the experience at Chabad seminary and Lincoln Square. I thought the “author of the post” went to the seminary, so it seemed possible this was a guest post or something. :)

Shorty said...

Here is a question - when you sit and watch the light of Menorah - do you
a) See Hashem is here with you
b) Remember the miracle

Be honest!

In the past, I always saw the Miracle. It was more a historical thing - we won the battle, Hashem was there, there was a miracle...

This year was different. It felt Holy in a way. A very personal moment that cannot be put into words. It is the same when I have my Shabbat Candles ready to go next to my Challah, it is a moment beyond words.

it kind of reminds me of this story

Anarchist Chossid said...

What is a miracle? What was the miracle? Wasn’t it the presence of Hashem?

By the way, the reason for Shabbos candles is sholom bayis — so that you don’t have to sit in the darkness on Shabbos. Teach that to a newcomer to Yiddishkeit. Or teach about the pnimiyus and ruchnius of the mitzva — for which nigleh reason is a keili. And see which one will work better for a cynical atheist like I was (“turn on the light!”). :)

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


To be honest, I think more about the miracle. But the question is: Which aspect of the miracle to you find joy in? Your amazement that Hashem can do miracles? Or your gratitude that Hashem has enough of a relationship with us, such that he would "bother" to do miracles for us?

And yes, I hear what you're saying with the Chanukah lighting and Shabbos candle-lighting this year. You should merit to see many many many more years of such joy and pleasure through those mitzvos!

Crawling Axe,


-Dixie Yid

Shorty said...

I like your questions!

My amazement or rather my awe is for Hashem's presence, AND i am thankful for His miracles.

Shalom to you as well!

Anarchist Chossid said...

I talked to my rabbi over the phone about this question (Lincoln Square vs. Chabad vs. midway approach). We came to these conclusions:

1. First of all, there is a difference between someone wanting to be a better businessman or more intellectual person and someone who wants to be closer to Hashem. Even though these two things both seem like utilitarian approaches and are different from the ultimate reason one should be interested in doing mitzvos and learning Torah (to cause achdus of HKB"H and Shchinteh), the Hashem-oriented utilitarianism is not just quantitatively but qualitatively different from gashmius-oriented utilitarianism.

The reason for that is that the Hashem-oriented utilitarianism is rooted in nefesh Elokis, which at the bottom of things wants what Hashem wants.

There is a statement in a medrash that Hashem created thunder so that people fear Him. But does the person really fear Hashem if he fears thunder? The answer is in a moshol: a boy got a splinter, and the splinter got infected, so the father had to cut out the splinter with a scalpel. Then the father told the boy: “Don’t get the splinter, because I will have to use scalpel again.” The boy is afraid of the scalpel, but scalpel exists there only because the father is afraid of the infection. So, the shoiresh of the fear of tje splinter and of the scalpel is the same.

In the same sense, the shoresh of fear of thunder and of yiras Hashem is the same, because Hashem created thunder, since He wants people to keep mitzvos.

In the same way, you can invert the situation and say that the shoresh of wanting to be close to Eibeshter is the same as shoresh of more eidele idea of a desire for achdus of HKB"H and Schinteh (which ultimately means dira b’tachtoinim).

2 The Lubavitcher Rebbe in many cases wrote in his letters (to people who asked for a brocha for gezunt or parnasa) that Hashem is the master of all things, He knows what you need the best, and if you do Torah and mitzvos, it will result in Hashem giving you what you need.

Isn’t that also “attracting” people through gashmiustike things? Sure — and there is no problem with that initially. Rambam says that you should start off teaching a child that if he does a mitzva, you will give him candy. It becomes problematic only if that’s the reason when the child is bar-mitzva age.

3. The difference between Chassidim and… the other school of thought is that a Chossid may learn Torah and do mitzvos because he wants parnasa and (in a more eidele case) because he wants to be close to Hashem — but he knows that there is something higher and (hopefully) strives for it. It’s always at the back of his mind. In the other school of thought, gashmiustike benefit is all there is.

4. Final and most important point of the difference between Chabad and the other school of thought. The Rebbe said that Hashem will give you parnasa if you do Torah and mitzvos. Not that Torah and mitzvos will be some sort of segulah for parnasah or that through wisdom that one learns out of Talmud, for example, one can become a better lawyer or businessman.

And at that point we arrived at the lithmus test. See, an atheist can believe in the last point — sure, if I learn Gemara, I will become a better businessman, since Gemara sharpens your logic, presents you with situations you might deal with in business, orients your mind to certain way of thinking, etc. No problem with that. An atheist cannot believe that Hashem will provide for you and make your life better if you do Torah and mitzvos.

So, if you want to ask whether some approach is an appropriate for kiruv, ask yourself a question: would an atheist believe this?


Anyway, this is just two people’s opinion.

(I may write a post about this later, so, I will use parts of my answer and link to your posts, if you don’t mind.)