The Added Chanukah Lights

Beis Shammai omrim yom rishon madlik shemoneh mikan v’eilech poches v’holeich, u’Beis Hillel omrim yom rishon madlik achad, mikan v’eilech mosif v’holech (Shabbos 21b)

The Gemara in Shabbos (21b) records a dispute between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai regarding the proper procedure for lighting the menorah on Chanukah. Beis Shammai maintains that one should light eight lights on the first night, and on each successive night, he should light one less than the day before, until he lights only one light on the final night. Beis Hillel’s position is the opposite, arguing that a person should light one light on the first night of Chanukah and should add an additional one on each ensuing night, such that he lights eight lights on the final night.

The Gemara expounds Beis Shammai’s position as being rooted in the sacrifices that are offered on Sukkos (Bamidbar 29:12–34), which decrease in number on each successive day, while the reasoning behind Beis Hillel’s opinion is that a person should always seek to add to mitzvos and not detract from them. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to understand why Beis Shammai would endorse a position of lighting fewer candles on each subsequent night of Chanukah.

There is a well-known question regarding Chanukah which is attributed to the Beis Yosef: Since the Chashmona’im found enough pure oil to burn for one day, no miracle occurred on that first day, in which case Chanukah should only be commemorated for the seven days that the oil burned miraculously. Why, then, do we celebrate Chanukah for eight days if the miracle only lasted for seven?

The Ramban writes (Shemos 13:16) that when a person sees and experiences clear and open miracles, it should lead him to the recognition that even routine and ordinary events that he takes for granted are also miraculous, albeit in a hidden form cloaked in the guise of nature. This concept is so fundamental to Jewish belief that the Ramban writes that a person who denies it has no portion in the Torah.

Applying this idea to Chanukah, the Alter of Kelm explains that although we view oil burning as the mere functioning of the scientific laws of nature and not miraculous in any way, this is precisely the point: The additional day of Chanukah commemorates the recognition that nature itself is a creation of Hashem, and just because we are accustomed to it on a daily basis, it is no less miraculous than the open miracle that the oil burned for seven days longer than it was supposed to.

Harav Avrohom Gurwicz, Rosh Yeshivah of Gateshead, notes that there are some people who are unable to see Hashem’s involvement in their lives until they survive a major car accident. For others, that would still not be enough, unless the car first spun around multiple times before safely coming to a stop. Yet there are some people for whom this would still be inadequate, and the only way to get them to see Hashem’s hand would be if they flew out of the car and landed in their beds.

With this insight, Rav Gurwicz explains that Beis Shammai maintains that we should light one less candle each night to demonstrate that we are able to recognize and sense Hashem’s presence and involvement in our lives, even when the miracles are less obvious. After the first day of Chanukah, we have become closer to Hashem, and even a lesser miracle suffices to enable us to perceive Hashem’s hand, until the final night of Chanukah arrives, by which point we have reached an elevated spiritual level in which the mere fact that oil burns is enough to allow us to acknowledge and appreciate Hashem’s miracles.

Q: How did Yosef know to interpret the three branches and three baskets seen in the dreams of the cupbearer and baker to refer to events that would transpire in three days (40:12,18), while understanding that the seven stalks and seven cows in Pharaoh’s dreams correspond to seven years (41:26); when perhaps the dreams of his cell-mates referred to three years, and Pharaoh’s to seven days?

Q: Why does the Torah, which teaches only what is necessary for all generations to know, record (41:45) that Pharaoh changed Yosef’s name to Tzafnas Panei’ach?

A: The Ramban explains that in the cupbearer’s dream, he saw that as soon as the grapevine budded, it grew blossoms and ripe grapes, which indicated that it would be fulfilled quickly, indicating that it would take place in only three days. The Ibn Ezra, Panei’ach Raza, and Moshav Z’keinim answer that Yosef knew that Pharaoh’s birthday was in three more days, at which time he assumed the dreams would be fulfilled, while Pharaoh’s dream involved abundance of food and famine, which aren’t likely to change in such a short period of time, so he assumed that it referred to seven years. The Avi Ezri commentary on the Ibn Ezra writes that Yosef simply recognized this difference prophetically, although the Moshav Z’keinim notes that the Gemara in Brachos (55a) seems to indicate that he deduced the interpretations from the dreams

A: The Chizkuni explains that this information is necessary to answer a very practical question: Even if Yosef’s brothers didn’t recognize him now that he had a beard (Rashi 42:8) and didn’t recognize his voice since he was speaking a different language, shouldn’t it have been a giveaway when they heard everybody calling him Yosef? In order to prevent this from happening and interfering with His Divine plan, Hashem caused Pharaoh to change his name to one that would disguise his identity.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email