Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Menorah: The House as Temple

In studying the sugeyot in Shabbat dealing with the Hanukkah menorah, I have discovered two important motifs. The first is that of the home. On 21b, the basic mitzvah is one candle for each house. In fact, the second level of the mitzvah is a candle for each member of the household, even though it includes children who are not obligated in the mitzvah. Like few other mitzvot, the ner Hanukah must be lit in close proximity to one's home. In fact, at the bottom of 23a, a person who has two entranceways to his/her home is urged to light two candles since we are afraid that passers by might think that he/she hasn't lit the ner Hanukah near his/her home. Even more striking is the passage on 23a. R. Zeira says that when he was staying as a guest before he got married, he would chip in with his host for the ner Hanukah. The most likely explanation is that he had to chip in to be considered a member of the household. But once he got married, he did not have to chip in when he was by himself as a guest, since he could fulfill his commandment through his wife's lighting back at his home. This strongly suggests that the mitzvah of Hanukah is intimately connected with the home.
We also find the motif of the temple. At the bottom of 21a, the comparison between the ner tamid and Shabbat light is the jumping off point for the Talmud's discussion of the ner Hanukah. We also find the temple motif discussed on 21b. There, the main arguments of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai about how many lights to light for each night revolve around the temple service. Beit Shammai's argument compares the Menorah to the decreasing bull offerings during the festival of Sukkot. Beit Hillel's argument is that we should always increase matters of sanctity rather than decrease them.
In the discussion as to whether one may light a ner Hanukah from the next, the most prominent argument of the sugeya is brought from the western light of the Menorah. Even though only part of the beraita is necessary to state the intended argument, the Stam still quotes the entire text, most significantly the statement that the western light was proof that the Shekhinah dwells amidst the people of Israel.
Finally, the Menorah and the ner Hanukah posses the same midrashic link to the Torah. Just as the temple menorah is midrashically linked to Torah study, we find on 23b that one who is careful in lighting the Hanukah lights will have sons/[daughters] who are Torah scholars.
I think we can combine these motifs. Although the ner Hanukah is supposed to remind us of the miracle, it is also intended to make our homes parellel the Kodesh, in which the Menorah burned. Even though we no longer have the temple and the Menorah, we can still turn our homes into a mikdash meát, a miniature temple, and light our own Menorah.


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