Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel dispute the preferred way to light Chanukah lights. According to Beis Hillel, light one the first night and add an additional light every night thereafter. Beis Shammai says to light eight lights the first night and decrease by one each subsequent night. We follow Beis Hillel.
Their dispute can be explained if we contemplate the nature of fire. Fire can produce holiness through its power to consume. Offerings were brought on the Temple Altar to achieve atonement for the one bringing the sacrifice. The fire consumed the wickedness and produced pure white smoke. Fire also can be the source of light. Light represents the Torah’s power to illuminate the darkness of doubt and evil and lead a person to a holy path of observance.
These two aspects were the essence of the Chanukah miracle. The Jewish people had to eradicate and burn away the evil influences of Hellenist society while rededicating our commitment to Torah values. By lighting our lights, we achieve both purposes. We commemorate the eradication of evil and the commitment to good.
Although we need both, which is paramount? Beis Shammai says one must purify oneself from evil before positive growth can be achieved. One who is not pure of heart cannot succeed in Torah study. The possibility exists of misinterpreting the truths of the Torah. Beis Hillel agrees with Shammai in principle but feels that one cannot afford to wait until one is totally pure before beginning one’s quest for the holiness of the Torah. If one waits to get rid of all the bad, one may never get to start one’s positive journey. Beis Hillel says to accentuate the positive — the light — and start your climb, while working on purifying yourself from impurity.
Some mistakenly believe the fullness of Torah isn’t for “regular” people. One must commit to a quest for the truth that only the whole Torah can offer. One must work on eliminating bad habits and ideas while patiently adding to one’s light of understanding mitzvos.
It takes one minute to commit — and a lifetime of daily growth to complete the task.
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.