Learning from Lighting the Menorah
By Avi Lazerson
We can understand these differences if we remember that not all arguments are differences of great diversity. It is very possible that the disagreeing parties agree in most points, but it is just one underlying principle in which they disagree that we wish to examine.
What can be the differences in the opinion of the first Rabbi Yosi who explains that one looks at the days coming in and the other at the days going out? Both academies agree that Chanukah is a time for drawing in to ourselves the holy aura that is present at this auspicious time. Should we focus on that holiness that we have absorbed within ourselves from the days gone by, or should we focus on what holiness still needs to be absorbed from Chanukah? The difference is how we relate to events around us.
The second Rabbi Yosi emphasizes the cows that were brought to the Temple during Succoth. These cows, the rabbis explained, were atonement for the seventy nations of the world who caused G-d's wrath with their iniquities. If you add up the total number of cows offered, you will come to the sum total of seventy corresponding to the seventy (original) nations of the world.
We now can understand their argument thusly:
If a king were wrath with one of his servants, he would withhold from him his kindness. The servant would have to bring a present to the king to regain the king's favor. On the first day the servant would have to make a monumental effort of a great present to impress the king as to his sincerity. On the next day, the effort could be less, and of course on the third day even less effort to please the king, until finally the king would accept the servant back into good status once again.
The rabbis explain that G-d is upset at the actions of the nations of the world; therefore the seventy cows are given in descending order to repair the relationship in order that the nations should have rain in their countries.
Now we can understand the concept as being the difference between measuring the need to appease the Master of the world so we count downwards as He is placated the need for appeasement is less. But there is another type of counting that would be to measure the closeness that we reach to G-d; each day of bringing presents brings us closer to the king. That is the second Rabbi Yosi's explanation of the difference between the two academies.
The academy of Shamai believes that the restoration of our relationship to G-d is what is counted. Since we must put in a great effort at the beginning to restore a relationship that has cooled off, we therefore measure in a descending order. However the academy of Hillel disagrees, they believe we must not look at the aspect of repairing the relationship, but rather on the increase in the closeness, hence, we look at ourselves increasing in holiness each night.
In reality it seems that both Rabbi Yosi's are trying to explain a similar concept. Do we look at what effort is needed to put into our improvement or what is gotten out of our efforts? As we struggle to improve ourselves and our world, the beginning of the struggle is the most difficult and yields the least results. What should we focus on? We need both, the effort and the results. We must focus on both.
Today, everyone, from the most orthodox Jew to the most reformed Jew, follows the ancient teaching of the academy of Hillel. Perhaps this is just the message for our generation; we must focus on getting result from our efforts and not on the effort that is necessary to achieve these results.
For more articles on Chanukah, see our Chanukah archives
from the December 2007 Chanukah Edition of the Jewish Magazine