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Chanukah and Mehadrin Min HaMehadrin

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Dec 26, 2005
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The Beraita in Shabbat 21a, states that the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah is fulfilled by lighting one light per household per night. Mehadrin (those who seek out fulfillment of mitzvot) light one light per person (of the household) per night. The practice of the mehadrin min hamehadrin (the very scrupulous) is a matter of dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. Beit Shammai are of the opinion that on the first night, eight lights are lit and one continues in descending order until the eighth night where one light is lit. The Halacha follows Beit Hillel, who are of the opinion that on the first night, one light is lit and one continues in ascending order culminating in the lighting of eight lights on the eighth night. This article will explore the various opinions regarding mehadrin min hamehadrin.

The ambiguity of the practice of mehadrin min hamehadrin lies in the relationship between regular mehadrin and mehadrin min hamehadrin. Do the mehadrin min hamehadrin also fulfill the practice of the mehadrin, or is this practice a distinct practice that is not based on the mehadrin practice? This question is a matter of dispute between Rambam and Tosafot. Rambam, Hilchot Chanukah 4:1, writes that the practice of the mehadrin min hamehadrin is that the lights on the first night correspond to the number of people in the household. On the second night, two lights are lit for each member of the household, and this pattern follows until the eighth night where eight lights are lit for each member of the household. Clearly Rambam is of the opinion that mehadrin min hamehadrin is built on the practice of mehadrin. However, Tosafot, Shabbat 21b, s.v. VeHaMehadrin, claim that mehadrin and mehadrin min hamehadrin cannot coexist. If the number of lights is reflective of both the number of people in household and the corresponding day, it is not recognizable which practice is in effect. For example, if one lights eight lights on the fourth night, it is possible that there are eight members of the household and one is fulfilling the practice of mehadrin. Alternatively, there may be two members of the household, and one is fulfilling mehadrin min hamehadrin. For this reason Tosafot state that one can either light based on the number of members in the household (mehadrin), or light one light for the entire household (according to Beit Hillel) and increase one light every night (mehadrin min hamehadrin). According to Tosafot the mehadrin min hamehadrin practice is considered preferable because there is more hidur (enhancement) when the lights correspond to the specific day of Chanukah.

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 671:2, rules that even if there are many members of the household, one should light one light on the first night of Chanukah and increase one light every night of Chanukah. Rama, ad loc, notes that common practice is that every member of the household lights one light on the first night and increases one light per night.

The Opinion of Rama
At first glance, the dispute between Shulchan Aruch and Rama seems to correspond to the dispute between Tosafot and Rambam. Shulchan Aruch rules in accordance with the opinion of Tosafot that one can either fulfill mehadrin or mehadrin min hamehadrin but not both. Rama rules in accordance with the opinion of Rambam that the mehadrin min hamehadrin practice encompasses the mehadrin practice.

However, there are numerous difficulties in assuming that Rama rules in accordance with the opinion of Rambam. First, according to Rambam, mehadrin min hamehadrin is accomplished by the head of the household lighting one light for each member of the household. Rama's practice is that every member of the household lights his own lights. Second, according to Rambam, the number of lights corresponds to the number of members of the household – even those who are not obligated to light. Rama's practice will only provide lights corresponding to household members who actually light their own lights. Third, according to Rambam, the primary mitzvah is fulfilled by lighting one light. All additional lights are above and beyond the actual requirement. Ostensibly, it is unjustifiable to recite a beracha upon lighting additional lights as those additional lights are not part of the actual fulfillment of the mitzvah. Yet, Rama, in ruling that each member of the household lights his own set of lights, implies that each member of the household recites his own beracha.

The explanation for Rama's opinion is hinted to in Rama's own Darkei Moshe, Orach Chaim 671:2. Rama cites the opinion of R. Avraham of Prague who suggests that the concern of Tosafot – that lighting multiple sets of lights inhibits one's ability to determine which practice is being followed- is limited to the time period when the Chanukah lights were lit at the entrance to the house. The Gemara, Shabbat 21b, states that the Chanukah lights should be lit outdoors at the entrance to the home. If it is too dangerous to do so, it is even permitted to light the lights indoors. R. Avraham of Prague suggests that since nowadays everyone lights indoors, it is possible to light multiple sets of lights and still fulfill the opinion of Tosafot. This can be accomplished by lighting each set of lights in a distinct location. By doing so, it is clearly recognizable that each set of lights represents one member of the household. R. Avraham of Prague states that this method is the preferred method as it fulfills the opinion of Tosafot and Rambam.

One can now suggest that in principle, Rama follows the opinion of Tosafot. According to Tosafot, mehadrin min hamehadrin is fulfilled by one member of the household lighting the number of Chanukah lights that correspond to the day of Chanukah. Ideally, this should be done by each member of the household who is obligated in the mitzvah of Chanukah. However, since doing so would inhibit one's ability to determine which night of Chanukah it is, only one set of lights is lit on behalf of the entire household. Nevertheless, nowadays, where it is possible to light multiple sets of lights and still determine which night of Chanukah is being observed, every member of the household who is obligated in the mitzvah should light a set of lights in a distinct location. According to this explanation, it is justifiable for each member of the household to recite his own beracha. [This explanation is based on the comments of Aruch HaShulchan 671:15-18.]

The only problem with this explanation is that it does not fulfill the opinion of Rambam in all situations. If there are members of the household who do not light, the number of sets of lights will not correspond to the number of members of the household. One can either suggest that Rama primarily follows the opinion of Tosafot, and is not concerned with the opinion of Rambam in these situations. [This is implied by Aruch HaShulchan 671:9.] Alternatively, one can suggest that even Rambam agrees that the number of lights only corresponds to the number of household members who are obligated in the mitzvah. [Meiri, Shabbat 21a, cited in Mishna Berurah, Biur Halacha 675:3, states that only adult members of the household are counted.]

The Explanation of R. Yitzchak Z. Soloveitchik
R. Yitzchak Z. Soloveitchik, Chidushei Maran Riz HaLevi, Hilchot Chanukah 4:1, provides an alternative explanation for the opinion of Rama. He suggests that in principle, Rama follows Rambam's opinion. However, there is a dispute in Hilchot Milah as to whether hidur mitzvah (enhancement of the mitzvah) can exist outside of the context of the actual mitzvah. Rambam, Hilchot Milah 2:4, is of the opinion that once the actual fulfillment of the mitzvah is completed, there is no purpose to performing hidur mitzvah. Tur, Yoreh Deah 264, disagrees and maintains that one can fulfill hidur mitzvah even after the mitzvah is completed. Rama, Yoreh Deah 264:5, follows the opinion of Tur.

R. Soloveitchik suggests that Rambam's insistence that the head of the household light all of the sets of lights is due to his own opinion that hidur mitzvah cannot be accomplished outside of the context of the actual mitzvah. Therefore, a different member of the household cannot light the additional lights. However, Rama is of the opinion that hidur mitzvah can be fulfilled outside of the context of the actual mitzvah. Therefore, if another member of the household lights, it will constitute a fulfillment of mehadrin min hamehadrin. [One must still address whether is appropriate to recite a beracha upon fulfilling hidur mitzvah and whether the head of the household should light additional sets of lights corresponding to the members of the household who do not light.]

Halacha:

References: Shabbat: 21a 

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    Learning on the Marcos and Adina Katz YUTorah site is sponsored today by Ruth Peyser Kestenbaum and Miriam & Alan Goldberg to mark the tenth yahrtzeit of their father, Irwin Peyser, Harav Yisroel Chaim ben R' Dovid V' Fraidah Raizel Peyser