The Positive Light of Channukah

The Holiday of Channukah is of course a time to celebrate and rejoice,but where does that joy come from? It is simply like any other holiday- when there is a requirement to rejoice? Most notably, Channukah revolves around lighting the candles. And when it comes to these candles, we find a peculiar disagreement about how to light them.


In Masechet Shabbat (22a) Beit Shammai proposes that on the first night we should light all 8 candles, remove one each night until we light only one on the eighth night. Beit Hillel, on the other hand, proposes what we’re are used to doing- lighting one candle on the first night, and building our way up to eight on the last night. What is behind this disagreement? Surely, each of them “count” the nights in one way or the other. Why does it matter which direction we go in?


Digging beneath the surface of this question, we can explain based on the Chasam Sofer as follows: Beit Shammai looks at the miracle of Channukah as being about the removal of impurity- the taking away of bad influences. He therefore stresses this concept by decreasing the candles, removing one each night. Beit Hillel, on the other hand, sees the miracle of Channukah as being a resurgence of holiness, an increase in what we were allowed to (once again) do. 


This concept can be expressed through the medium of fire itself. In one way, fire can be an unfortunately destructive force. As we progress through Channukah, Beit Shammai appreciates the miracle as diminishing those destructive forces, represented by the Greek persecution. At the same time, fire can positive force- to illuminate and warm those around it. Beit Hillel sees this positivity as the main message behind the Channuka light, as it should increase through the holiday. 


While it’s certainly true that we must remove the bad influences in our lives, in regards to observing Channukah, we follow Beit Hillel. In the cold and darker days of winter, we celebrate this holiday as a reminder to warm those around us and bring about more light. The positivity we feel on Channukah isn’t simply because it’s a holiday; it is also the essence of why we light the candles.