Chanukah: America and Eretz Yisrael

It is interesting to note that in Eretz Yisrael the menorah is not lit in the same place as it is lit in America. In the United States, we usually light our menoros inside our houses in the window facing the street. In Eretz Yisrael, however, most people light in the doorways of their buildings.

The difference is not insignificant.

The Gemara Shabbos 21b states very clearly, “It is a mitzvah to place the neiros of Chanukah at the entrance of the door of one’s home on the outside.” Tosafos (“Mitzvah L’hanicha”) explains that the Gemara refers to a case where the home lies adjacent to the public street.  If there is a yard between his door and the street then he must put the neiros at the door of the yard next to the street.

The halachah is, in fact, like Tosafos.  Harav Elyashiv, zt”l, therefore, paskens that if one lives in an apartment house he must light his neiros within a tefach of the main door of his house facing the street. He is very forceful in his psak and rules that anyone in Eretz Yisrael who lights in the window of his house is not yotzeh and his brachah is a brachah l’vatalah. He must light again in what he considers the proper place (at the doorway to the street).

Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, on the other hand, feels that the mitzvah is to light the neiros in the doorway only when it is attributable to the home of a particular family. Since the many families who live in an apartment house would have to be lighting together, Rav Auerbach feels that it is preferable to light at the door of one’s own apartment or if they live on an upper floor, to light at the window that faces the street. To deal with this debate, my posek in Eretz Yisrael, Harav Avrohom Steinfeld, shlita, ruled that if I want to be yotzeh l’chol hadayos, I should light in my apartment by the window and then, without a hefsek, light another menorah in the doorway of my house.

One might wonder, what might Rav Elyashiv, zt”l, hold we should do in America? Interestingly enough, he says that although he still thinks that it is preferable to light outside, in America we are permitted to light inside the house. The reason, however, should alarm us. In America we live in galus and can apply the other ruling of the Gemara, “In the time of danger, we may light on the table in our house and it is sufficient.”

“In a time of danger?” Rav Elyashiv was asked. He replied, “Rashi explains that the Gemara was referring to situations similar to when the Jews lived in Babylonia. The Sassanid Persians celebrated a holiday on which kindling a light was permitted only in their pagan temples. If Chanukah coincided with that holiday, the neiros were kindled in the privacy of the home.

We, however, are talking about the United States of America on the eve of 2014. This is a country that prides itself on a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that guarantee freedom of religion. Why is it not just as incumbent upon Jews in America today to light on the outside as it is on Jews in Eretz Yisrael?”

Rav Elyashiv explained, “A Jew who lives in galus has a right to feel that any day things can change. He has a right to light inside his home.”

Although this lenient ruling makes things easier for us, as we can light in our homes, it should give us cause to ponder.

I remember a Jew who met me in San Diego at the time that I represented Agudath Israel. He urged me to organize a campaign to see to it that every Jew has a passport. “As comfortable as things seem,” he said, “you never know in galus how quickly things can change.”

This sobering thought for Jews in galus comes from the celebration of Chanukah which contains within it the realization that we can be in galus even when we are physically in the land of Eretz Yisrael. In the three other exiles — Bavel, Paras and Edom — we were physically removed from Eretz Yisrael. If galus means “exiled from our land” then “galus Yavan” would, by definition, not be a galus.

Obviously, the word galus refers to a time that kvod Malchus Shamayim is not prominent or visible in the world. When people don’t realize that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is running the world, then we and Hakadosh Baruch Hu, k’vayachol, are in galus.

The message of Chanukah has always been that, although physically we may find ourselves in Eretz Yisrael, if the prominence of Torah is not self-evident, then we must realize that, like the Chashmona’im, we have to once again be moser nefesh to proclaim the achdus of Hashem Yisborach.

I am in the unique position where, although I am, baruch Hashem, halachically a ben Eretz Yisrael, I still understand the perspective of the bnei chutz la’aretz. The message of Chanukah seems to be telling the bnei chutz la’aretz not to be comfortable in the growth of the Torah community. We cannot be complacent and think that we are living in the new Yerushalayim. Until we return to Eretz Yisrael with Moshiach Tzidkeinu we cannot think that we have arrived.

At the same time, it tells the bnei Eretz Yisrael not to lower their guard at a time that there are misyavnim who would like to destroy the Torah community. Chanukah reminds us that Hakadosh Baruch Hu will perform open miracles to preserve us as long as we remain as dedicated as the Chashmona’im for kvod Malchus Shamayim.

May we all be zocheh to soon light the neiros Chanukah in the streets of the rebuilt Yerushalayim.