הנרות הללו אנו מדליקין על הניסים ועל הנפלאות ….
Next week begins the Yom Tov of Chanukah. A review of some relevant halachos is always appropriate.
The Bach (670) writes that the days of Chanukah are charged with a special energy that helps a person improve and rectify his spiritual level, and Bnei Yissaschar says that the light of teshuvah from the days of Tishrei continues to shine through Chanukah, after which it is hidden and treasured. Sh”la Hakadosh writes that one should apply himself to learn Torah with diligence during Chanukah, and he writes that although we see in general during these days an attitude of carelessness in this matter, we should know better and double our efforts in learning with hasmadah.
Mishna Berura brings that Chanukah is also a special time to distribute tzedakah to the poor and specifically to people who dedicate themselves to learning Torah. It is also an accepted minhag to give Chanukah gelt (not presents) to the children, and some bring that the specific minhag is to give it on the fifth night of Chanukah; one reason that is mentioned, aside for the deeper reasons, is that the fifth day of Chanukah never falls on Shabbos, so one will always be able to give it on that night.
There are many opinions as to the most proper z’man for lighting. The Ramb''am holds that one should light at sunset, and that is also the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, and that was the minhag of the Brisker Rav. Rav Moshe Feinstein ZT''L held that one should light 10 min. after shki’a, and the Chazon Ish lit 20 min. after shki’a. The Shulchan Aruch holds one should light at tzais hakochavim, and in practice, everyone should follow his minhag. If one doesn’t know what to follow exactly, one should try to comply with all opinions, and that is fulfilled, according to the Mishna B’rura, as long as one lights within one half an hour from both sunset and tzais, which is between 15 and 30 min. after shki’a. According to ALL opinions, one should put enough oil (or light large enough candles) to burn until 30 min. after tzais hakochavim (approx. one hour and 15 min. after sunset).
If one has a minhag to light earlier and remain by the candles for a while, and for a specific reason he will be unable to do it one day at that earlier time, it is preferable that he light later, and remain by the candles, rather than lighting at the earlier time but go away from the candles.
One should try to light at the beginning of the z’man hadlakah, and not postpone the mitzvah. It is also preferable to wait for all family members to be present, rather than lighting at an earlier time. If a boy becomes bar mitzvah during Chanukah, he should wait to light until after tzais hakochavim, regardless of what he does on any other night.
The minhag is that while the Chanukah candles are burning, ladies refrain from doing melacha, and that is until a half an hour after tzais. This is referring to the melachos that are women’s types of works, like spinning, weaving, sewing, ironing, doing laundry and the like. Some say that they should refrain from doing any melacha that is not done on chol hamo’ed, and although the custom in Yerushalayim is not even to cook during this time, the general minhag is not to prohibit cooking (e.g., frying latkes).
The Mishna Berura writes (in Biur Halacha 670:2) that instead of singing praises of Hashem during these days, many people play cards, but one who cares for his neshama should stay away from it. However, the minhag to play dreidel has deep sources as explained in Bnei Yissaschar: the letters ג’ ש’ נ’ ה’ represent the four powers of a person which are גוף, שׂכל, נשמה, (body, intellect, and the soul) and הכל, which is a higher force that includes everything, As well as the four kingdoms of בבל (neshama), יון (intellect), מדי (body) and אדום (all) stand against these forces, and are going to become eliminated through משיח which in gematria is the equivalent of ג’ ש’ נ’ ה’, במהרה בימינו.
By Rabbi Chaim Schabes
Rav of Knesses Yisroel