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The manner that Chazal prescribe for performing a mitzvah often reveals the underlying reason for and ultimate goal of the mitzvah. So it is with the mitzvah of hadlakas ner Chanukah. Understanding how the tension is resolved between competing aspects of its performance “sheds light” not only on ner Chanukah but on the meaning and message of Chanukah itself.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
"B ’rov am hadras Melech,” the concept that the glory of the King is magnified when served by multitudes united in His service, is expressed both in a verse in Mishlei (14:28) and in a halachic requirement. Based on this verse and the one stating that the korban Minchah be brought to the sons of Aharon, the Midrash Rabbah (Vayikra 3:6) states that the bringing of a korban Minchah in the Beis Hamikdash must involve many Kohanim. This implies that in the view of the Midrash, glorifying Hashem by serving Him en masse may be a biblical requirement.
The Rambam, in his commentary to the Mishnah in Pesachim (5:6), explains that the use of a bucket brigade of Kohanim to bring the korban Pesach was “to show that the more people involved in the performance of a mitzvah, the better, because [of the concept] B’rov am hadras Melech.” The Rambam’s wording indicates that he regards B’rov am hadras Melech as a preference rather than an obligation.
As described below, Chazal understand that B’rov am hadras Melech is not limited to mitzvah performance but extends to the recitation of brachos as well. Thus, when many people gather to perform a mitzvah, only one should recite the brachah, with everyone fulfilling their obligations together through him.
The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 298) codifies this practice with respect to many joining together for the recitation of Havdalah. Yalkut Yosef (Orach Chayim 271:38) says B’rov am hadras Melech also requires one Kiddush to be made on behalf of all participating in a Shabbos meal.
However, the Mechaber writes (Orach Chayim 8:5) that if ten men don their tallisos at the same time, they “can recite the blessing individually or one can recite the blessing on behalf of the others.” The Gra and others require one brachah, in keeping with the rule of B’rov am hadras Melech. The position of the Mechaber, however, is puzzling, because it seems to ignore the halachah of B’rov am hadras Melech.
The essential obligation to light ner Chanukah is that of ner ish u’beiso, one menorah per household. The Gemara, however, sets forth two additional levels of hiddur in this mitzvah that have been adopted as the common practice, which are that every person lights his own menorah and says (or hears) the brachos.
Since the optimal time to light is relatively brief, we might have expected the Shulchan Aruch to address whether multiple people lighting at the same time should recite the brachos individually or one person should recite the brachah for all those lighting in fulfillment of B’rov am hadras Melech. Does his omission of B’rov am indicate that like in the case of a tallis, it isn’t required?
Clearly the prevailing practice is for everyone to recite their own brachos — but why? Why wouldn’t the principle of B’rov am hadras Melech be applicable to the bircas hamitzvah of ner Chanukah?
Rav Baruch Dov Povarsky shlita, in his sefer Bad Kodesh (pp. 426–428) explains the reason that B’rov am hadras Melech applies to birchos hamitzvos is that a brachah of the “rabbim” is of greater value than many brachos of “yechidim.” However, to constitute a brachah of the rabbim, the brachah must relate to a joint obligation.
For example, when people join together to do bedikas chometz in one home in fulfillment of one obligation, the brachah is that of a rabbim and certainly only one person should recite it. However, Rav Povarsky explains, if ten men don their tallisos, since each is fulfilling an individual obligation there is no possibility for brachah of the rabbim and consequently, there is no advantage to reciting a collective brachah. This is why the Mechaber rules that the brachah on the mitzvah of tallis can be recited either individually or collectively.
However, Rav Povarsky notes that notwithstanding the present minhag of every person lighting his own menorah, the basic obligation is a collective one, of ner ish u’beiso. All the separate lightings join together to fulfill that unitary obligation, albeit in a manner that is more mehudar. Accordingly, the bircas ner Chanukah is a brachah of the rabbim and should be subject to the requirement of B’rov am hadras Melech, contrary to the prevailing practice. Rav Povarsky thus leaves unresolved why the din of B’rov am hadras Melech does not require one person to make the brachah on behalf of everyone lighting at the same time.
There is a well-known machlokes over whether one can fulfill the mitzvah of lighting after people are no longer to be found in the marketplace (ad shetichla regel min hashuk, however that phrase is defined). Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 672) is of the opinion that one should ideally light before that time, but if he did not do so, he may light thereafter out of doubt, on the possibility that lighting is still permitted.
In Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 672:1-2), the Mechaber concurs with the view he presented in Beis Yosef but doesn’t discuss whether one lighting after the preferred time should make the brachah. Magen Avraham contends that one should not make a brachah (because the obligation to light during that time period is in doubt) in accordance with the rule that when in doubt, one does not recite a brachah.
Magen Avraham understands that the Mechaber’s silence regarding making a brachah after the preferred time implicitly conveys his view that one should recite the brachah. Hence, he questions why the Mechaber does not apply the well-established principle of safek brachos l’hakeil and rule that one should not recite the brachah.
The Chacham Tzvi (Sh’eilos U’tshuvos 88) notes that although there is a machlokes as to whether one should make a brachah on a minhag, it is undisputed that the minhag to light candles in shul is performed with a brachah. Why do those who hold that one should not make a blessing on a minhag agree that lighting the menorah in shul requires a brachah?
Rav Yaakov Emden, in his commentary to the Tur (Mor U’ketziah 672), provides an insight into both the mitzvah and the brachah of hadlakas ner Chanukah that furnishes a basis to resolve all our questions. He writes: “The mitzvah of ner Chanukah differs in that its brachah is certainly essential to its fulfillment, because the institution of the mitzvah is for pirsumei nisa [to publicize the miracle], and if one lights without the brachah, one hasn’t accomplished anything. Since one who sees him lighting will think it is for his personal needs, without the brachah it isn’t absolutely clearly being done for the mitzvah.”
Generally, the halachah is that the omission of a bircas hamitzvah does not impede the mitzvah’s fulfillment, but according to Rav Yaakov Emden, the bircas hamitzvah of ner Chanukah is different. Omission of the bircas ner Chanukah means the lighting lacks pirsumei nisa, which is the central purpose of lighting the ner Chanukah, without which one cannot fulfill the mitzvah. The brachah on ner Chanukah is inextricably tied to pirsumei nisa and therefore, lighting without a brachah lacks the essential purpose, meaning and message of ner Chanukah; it is empty, meaningless, and void.
Rav Yaakov Emden uses this yesod to explain why all agree that we must recite a brachah on the minhag of hadlakas ner Chanukah in shul. As explained, the point of this lighting is pirsumei nisa, which is lost without the recitation of a brachah, “for if we light without a brachah there is no pirsumei nisa, as [bystanders] could think that the candles are being lit to illuminate the shul.” Therefore, all agree that if we are to light in shul, it must be done with a brachah.
Similarly, he resolves why the Mechaber, though subscribing to the view that in lighting after “the marketplace has cleared” one only fulfills his obligation misafek, rules that one should nevertheless recite the brachah. There is no such thing as lighting without a brachah due to the indispensable requirement of pirsumei nisa, and thus, notwithstanding the general rule of safek brachos l’hakeil, if there is an obligation to light, albeit misafek, it must be accompanied by a brachah.
Using the principle established by Rav Yaakov Emden, perhaps we can now resolve Rav Povarsky’s above-mentioned question as to why multiple people lighting together make individual brachos, even though B’rov am hadras Melech certainly applies to birchos hamitzvos that relate to the fulfillment of joint obligations, like that of ner ish u’beiso.
Rav Yaakov Emden’s chiddush that any lighting without a brachah is invalid for lack of pirsumei nisa, applies to multiple lightings with one brachah, too. Although the person reciting the brachah is clearly lighting for the mitzvah, those lighting without a brachah may be suspected of lighting for personal use, stripping away the pirsumei nisa and rendering the lighting invalid.
Here, performance of the lighting in a manner of B’rov am hadras Melech clashes with the requirement that the lighting be done in a fashion of pirsumei nisa. Abiding the rule of B’rov am hadras Melech would actually render the lighting invalid by negating the pirsumei nisa. B’rov am hadras Melech, which is merely a preference, must bow in the face of pirsumei nisa, which is critical for the validity of the mitzvah. We therefore must require each person to recite his own brachah.
As noted, pirsumei nisa is an indispensable element of the mitzvah of hadlakah. But why isn’t pirsumei nisa considered merely an ancillary aspect of the mitzvah, similar to other elements such as hiddur, zerizus, etc., whose omission does not render the mitzvah invalid?
Rav Yitzchok Hutner ztz”l (Pachad Yitzchok, Chanukah notes, pg 145) observes that the pirsumei nisa of ner Chanukah is unique in that the publicizing of the miracle occurs through action (i.e., lighting) rather than through speech. Rav Hutner asks: Since rabbinic laws are generally patterned after biblical laws, why did Chazal institute pirsumei nisa via action when the biblical obligation of pirsumei nisa that takes the form of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim is fulfilled via speech?
In fact, the other instance of rabbinic pirsumei nisa, i.e., reading the Megillah, is patterned after the biblical template, yet Chanukah is not. Why, then, did Chazal create a new type of pirsumei nisa for Chanukah?
Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik ztz”l (Harerei Kedem, vol. 1., pg 275) points to another distinction between the pirsumei nisa of Chanukah and that of Pesach and Purim. Those latter forms of pirsumei nisa are directed inward toward fellow Jews, being communicated through speech at home or in shul. The pirsumei nisa of Chanukah, however, is directed outward toward non-Jews as well, as can be seen from the Gemara (Shabbos 21b), which teaches that the time period for lighting the Menorah lasts until the non-Jews known as Tarmudai leave the marketplace. Why is the pirsumei nisa of Chanukah directed toward the non-Jewish world?
Towards the end of al hanissim of Chanukah we declare that Hashem “made a great and holy name in [His] world,” implying that the miracles of Chanukah imprinted their influence on the world at large. This is puzzling because Chanukah commemorates the battle between Yavan and Yisrael, which did not involve the rest of the world.
If anything, Purim, which celebrates the salvation of Jews in many different countries from their enemies, would seem to be a better day on which to use that phrase in tefillah, yet we do not. Again, we see from this phrasing that the message of Chanukah is directed not only inward but outward as well.
In sum, the pirsumei nisa of Chanukah appears unique in being expressed through action and being directed at the non-Jewish world as well. In these ways, it isn’t patterned after biblical pirsumei nisa. What does this teach us about Chanukah and the mitzvah of hadlakas neiros?
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