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Chanuka – The Question of the Beis Yosef

The Beis Yosef’s Question

The Beis Yosef[1] asks why the festival of Chanuka was instituted for eight days. Since the Chashmonaim found one jar of oil that would have been sufficient for the first night[2] it would seem that the first night wasn’t miraculous. This question is also asked by the Tosfos HaRosh[3].

It is very interesting to note that both of them give almost identical answers to this question.

The First Answer-Eight Parts

The first answer that the Beis Yosef and the Tosfos HaRosh give is that the Chashmonaim split the oil into eight parts and lit an eighth every night, and the oil miraculously lasted throughout the night. Therefore the first night was just as miraculous as the other nights.

Oil in Menora for the Whole Night

The Pri Chadash[4] asks on this approach that since the Halacha is that one needs to place into the Menora enough oil to last until the next day[5] how was it permissible for them to place a smaller amount-one may not rely on a miracle[6]!

However, this question is based on the assumption that one has to place enough oil at the time of lighting the Menora. It is true that this is the ruling by the Chanuka candles.[7] However, this is only because we rule that the main accomplishment of the Mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles is at the time of lighting[8]. What is the Halacha regarding the Menora in the Beis HaMikdash?

The opinion of the Keren Orah[9] and the Chazon Ish[10] is that one needs to place enough oil at the time of the lighting. However, it seems clear from the Tosfos HaRosh[11] that when needed, the Halacha only requires that the candle burns until the next morning, and that even if one would not place enough oil at the time of lighting, rather one would add oil throughout the night, one would fulfil one’s obligation.

Accordingly, it seems that the answer to the Pri Chadash’s question is that they used this small amount of oil, and then they sat and watched it burn, intending to add more oil throughout the night. A miracle took place and the oil lasted throughout the night.

 

Eight Days of Less Oil

However, this first answer of the Beis Yosef still requires explanation. Assuming that the Chashmonaim were not relying that a miracle would take place, how were they able to light less than the optimal amount for each night rather than lighting the full amount for the first night?

The Zecher Yehosef[12] says that this is based on the concept that even the consumption of less than the required amount of a prohibition is prohibited from Torah law[13]. Accordingly, says the Zecher Yehosef, the converse is also true; that the fulfilment of less than the required amount in Mitzvos is also a fulfilment of the Torah law. Hence, the Chashmonaim chose to fulfil all eight nights with less than the required amount than to fulfil only the first night with the required amount.

This seems difficult for two reasons. Firstly, as I have written[14], it seems that the base equation, that fulfilment of a Mitzva with less than the required amount is a partial fulfilment of the Torah command, is difficult. Secondly, even if one were to posit such an equation, it seems clear that a once off complete fulfilment is definitely better than multiple acts of less than the required amount. A clear proof seems to be that one who has the correct amount of Matza on Pesach night has to eat that amount. We do not rule that one should break up the Matza into many pieces and eat less than the required amount multiple times. Rather, one has to fulfil their obligation. This case is no different. The Chashmonaim had an obligation to light the Menorah. If their obligation was to light with a specific amount then they were obligated to fulfil their obligation. So why did they split up the oil?

Understanding the Amount of Oil

I quoted earlier from the Tosfos HaRosh that when needed, one may add oil throughout the night. It seems to me that in his opinion, the Halacha of placing enough oil in the cups is not in order to ensure a specific quality in the lighting of the Menorah. Rather, this Halacha tells one that the time of the fulfilment of the Mitzvah of having a lit Menorah is throughout the night, and therefore one should have enough oil placed in it in order that it remains lit throughout this time period. According to this understanding, every minute of having a lit Menorah constitutes fulfilment of obligation, regardless of the amount of oil that was placed in it at the time of lighting.

To give an example of a similar case: One should have Shabbos candles lit throughout one’s entire meal. However, if they went out before that point, one definitely fulfilled one’s obligation for that time. The end of the meal is the optimal time frame for the fulfilment of the obligation.

Therefore the Chashmonaim were justified in spreading out the oil over eight days. Eight hours in one night is just as much of a Mitzvah as one hour each night over eight nights.

An Obligation to Light?

One may ask on this approach from the principle that הדלקה עושה מצוה-the fulfilment of the obligation of lighting the Chanuka candles is through their lighting[15]. This seems to imply that each lighting accomplishes a Mitzva.

However this is not necessarily true with regards to the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash. There is a famous story regarding the Imrei Emes and Rav Chaim Brisker. Rav Chaim had a question on a Medrash which stated that for all the forty years that Klal Yisrael were in the desert the Menorah did not get extinguished. If so, asked Rav Chaim, how did they fulfil their obligation of lighting the Menorah?

The Imrei Emes answered Rav Chaim that they continually added oil. This is Halachikally classified as an act of lighting a fire, as we find in Tosfos[16]. This idea was echoed by the Ohel Moshe[17].

Rav Chaim himself argued that if an act of lighting is required then adding oil would not be enough. However, he then gave his own answer. The Rambam[18] says that it is permitted for a non-Kohen to light the wicks of the Menorah outside of the Heichal. From this Rav Chaim deduced that the Mitzva regarding the lighting of the candles of the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash does require an act of lighting, rather as long as they are lit, however they achieved that state, there is a fulfilment of the Mitzvah.

Answer Two-The Oil Refilled

Getting back to our original question, the second answer given by the Beis Yosef[19] is that the jug miraculously refilled with oil after pouring the entire contents of the jug on the first night.

The Pri Chadash[20] asks that if this is the case then the last night was not miraculous. Why do we celebrate all eight days?

The answer to this question seems to be that the very fact that we lit oil produced by a miracle on the eighth day is reason enough to celebrate.

Lighting with Miraculous Oil

There is a difficulty with this answer of the Beis Yosef. We know that we need a special type of fine pressed oil for the lighting of the Menorah.[21] How, then, could we utilise oil that was produced miraculouslyy?

However, we find in three places that items produced miraculously are Halachikally regarded in the same manner as their natural counterparts.

  1. The Gemara[22] discusses the permissibility of making a certain offering from wheat which fell miraculously from the heavens.[23] The Gemara does not question whether such a substance is at all called wheat.
  2. The Gemara[24] discusses the permissibility of meat which fell miraculously from the heavens. It is taken as a given that this is indeed meat. The only question in the Gemara is whether it’s considered Kosher.
  3. The Radak[25] says that there was a discussion regarding the tithing of the miraculous oil wrought through Elisha. There is no question that it was indeed considered oil.

We see from all these cases that even when something is produced in a miraculous manner, as long as it is perceived as a given object then it assumes that status.

Hashem’s Stamp

However, to me it seems quite unreasonable that one should need to prove that the oil that Hashem Himself made for the Chashmonaim should be subject to Halachik scrutiny. It is obvious that Hashem did not just give them oil for their own personal usage, rather it was clearly for the Menora. If that was the case then we have Hashem’s own Kosher stamp on this oil. It is irrational for us to scrutinise Him.

Even though we have a principle that Torah is not in Heaven[26], it seems to me that this is only in regards to learning permanent Halachik principles from any miraculous occurrence. However, this occurrence was a specific occurrence.

Answer Three-An Eighth Each Night

The third answer given by the Tosfos HaRosh, and echoed by the Beis Yosef, is that they put all the oil into the cups the first night and only an eighth burned each night.

The Pnei Yehoshua[27] asks that the Halacha is that one needs to replace the leftover oil every day.[28]

The Sfas Emes[29] answers that this is only when the flame was extinguished.

My own answer to this question is as above. Even if the Halacha is like the Pnei Yehoshua this was a clearly miraculous event and it would be an exception.

The Sho’el U’Maishiv’s answer

The Sho’el U’Maishiv[30] has his own answer to the question of the Beis Yosef. He answers that since we are forbidden to make a Menora of seven branches therefore Chazal made Chanuka for eight days in order to prevent us from sinning.

This seems very difficult, because there is no Halachik necessity to use a Menora at all for the lighting of Chanuka candles, hence there should be no need to create an additional day.

The Other Rishonim’s Answer

There is a major point to be made. A tremendous amount of Torah has been written on the question of the Beis Yosef in the last few hundred years, yet we do not find this question asked by most of the Rishonim. The Rishonim are our guides to understanding the Torah. If they did not ask this question it means that there was a reason why they were not bothered by it.

Perhaps the reason is that the question is based on the assumption that eight days of Chanuka have to correspond to eight days of miracles. We find by Sukkos and Pesach that we celebrate for seven days despite the fact that the miracles that are being celebrated were not for seven days. The entire event of Chanuka happened over eight days, therefore Chazal instituted eight days.

A support to this is that we find in Megillas Ta’anis[31] that the reason that there are eight days of Chanuka is because the inauguration of the altar and its vessels took eight days. Although it is true that in Talmud Bavi[32] the reason is for the Menora, we do see that it does not have to be connected to a miracle on all eight days.

The Principle of the Ramban

After everything we have said, we can still give one additional answer to the Beis Yosef. The Ramban[33] makes a very emphatic point that we must always remember that everything, natural or not, in this world, is all miraculous. Nothing is natural. Hashem is running everything. This point is echoed strongly by the Chacham Tzvi.[34] Therefore, we have an additional night of Chanuka to remind us that even the seemingly natural occurrence of the oil burning the first night was also a miracle.


[1] Beis Yosef Orach Chaim Siman 670 d”h Ve’ika Lemeidak

[3] Tosfos HaRosh Shabbos 21b d”h VeNa’aso Neis

[4] Pri Chadash Siman 670 d”h Umakshu Hacha

[7] Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim 675:2

[9] Keren Orah Menachos 89a d”h Uman D’amar Mima’ala LeMato

[10] Chazon Ish Menachos 30:7 d”h Ve’ika De’amri Mimata

[11] Above, footnote 3

[12] [Ed. Note]: I didn’t locate this source. להיפך עיין בזכר יהוסף על הש”ס שבת כב: שהביא בסוף דבריו בשם שו”ת שדה הארץ דאינו מדליק ח’ ימים בחצאי שיעורים.

[14] Minchas Osher Haggadah Shel Pesach, Sha’arei Teshuva Siman 12

[16] [Ed. Note]: I could not find this source

[17] [Ed. Note]: I could not find this source

[18] Rambam Hilchos Bi’as Mikdash 9:7

[19] Above, footnote 1

[20] Above, footnote 4

[21] See Shemos 27:20 and Rashi d”h Zach and d”h Kasis. Briefly, the oil had no sediment and was the first drop of oil to emerge from the mortarr.

[23] This is the explanation of Tosfos ibid d”h Chittin Sheyardu

[25] Radak to Melachim II 4:7

[27] [Ed. Note]: I could not find this source

[29] Sfas Emes Menachos 88b d”h Ner Shekavsa

[30] Teshuvos Sho’el U’Maishiv Mahadurah Kamma 3:71

[33] Ramban Shemos 13:16 d”h U’letotafos

[34] Teshuvos Chacham Tzvi Siman 18

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