December 23rd, 2022 — Hanukkah Kavanot 2022/5783
Happy Hanukkah, everybody. Tonight is the sixth night of Hanukkah, but tonight is also Shabbat. So tonight we will be lighting two sets of candles, the six candles for Hanukkah with that seventh Shamash lighting candle and then the two classic Shabbat candles.
So, this raises a technical halakhic question. That is, which of the candles do we light first, the Shabbat candles or the Hanukkah candles? Well, the answer has to be the Hanukkah candles, because once we’ve lit the Shabbat candles, then Shabbat has begun and we’re not supposed to kindle anymore flame.
So we light the Hanukkah candles first, a little earlier than usual, and allow them to burn later into the night. And then we turn and light the Shabbat candles and begin Shabbat. Now having these two sets of candles sitting there next to each other also allows us to consider a spiritual difference between the two lightings.
What are the Shabbat candles for? The Talmud, says mipneh shalom bayit, for the sake of peace in the home. In other words, we’re going to need light in our house on Shabbat if we’re going to be able to enjoy Shabbat so that we’re not crashing around into things and cold and confused and generally feeling unsafe.
So the Shabbat candles serve the functional purpose of lighting our homes so that we can enjoy Shabbat. The Hanukkah candles on the other hand, we famously declare when we light them, an lanu reshut lihishtamesh bahem, meaning we’re not supposed to use the Hanukkah candles for any purpose at all.
The only reason that we have Hanukkah candles is to gaze upon them and to think about the miracles that were done for our ancestors, to feel a sense of gratitude and to praise God. They’re just there to appreciate for their beauty and for what they remind us of.
They have no functional purpose at all. So the same substance, fire, but one usage in a very practical, functional way, and the other, for purely spiritual purpose. Now, the Talmud raises the question, which takes precedence? If you only have enough money to buy Shabbat candles or Hanukkah candles, which ones do you buy?
And the answer is Shabbat candles. Not because Shabbat is more important. But because the Talmud says Shabbat candles are for shalom bayit, for the peace in the home, and that takes precedence. So on this night of Shabbat and Hanukkah, it’s an opportunity to remember that we have places in our tradition for just appreciating beauty and feeling; a sense of wonder and gratitude.
But, at the end of the day, peace and safety and the ability to dwell in our homes with a sense of security takes precedence. And we’ve got to put that first. So wishing you a happy Hanukkah and a Shabbat of peace.