Three levels of fulfilling the mitzva of lighting the Chanuka lights are addressed by the Halachah:

  • 1)Kiyum hamitzvah, The minimum fulfillment,
  • 2) Kiyum le’mehadrin, beautifying the fulfillment,
  • 3) Kiyum le’ mehadrin min hamehadrin, additional beautifying of the mitzvah.

These unusual specifications, (though colloquially commonplace) are unique to the mitzva of hadlakat neirot chanuka, of Lighting the Chanuka Candles. [* see footnote]

We will attempt to gain a greater understanding as to the reason why Hidur (beautification) plays such a central role in the Mitzvah of hadlakat neirot chanuka.

One of the differences between the philosophy of the Ancient Greeks and that of the Torah, is on the matter of Beauty. The disagreement is not in defining the nature of beauty, but rather in prioritizing it.

How much significance do we attach to it? What is its value in relation to the other values we hold dear- is it as important as truth, for example? Or perhaps, beauty precedes truth as a priority?

A halachic discussion regarding ownership of land will help to define and illustrate the Torah’s position on beauty.

If a person occupies a piece of land unlawfully (squatter) and remains there uncontested for a three year period, the Halachah considers that land to be his only in the case that this squatter had an initial claim on the land. For example, he claims to have inherited the land or he bought it prior to his occupation, then his occupation is only to substante his claim of ownership and then the land becomes his. Squatting itself, even if for a long period of time, and even though uncontested, does not legitimize the act, and does not in itself confer ownership on the person. According to Halacha, the person acted unlawfully, and though nobody opposed it and all are living together in peace- truth takes precedence and the squatter is evicted.

Roman/ Greek law however, rules otherwise. Since all are living together peacefully and are unopposed to the squatter’s act, ownership is conferred upon the squatter.

We can explain the different approaches in the above instance as follows. The Greeks attached great value to the concept of Beauty and Harmony.( Harmony is a synonym for beauty as it is the symmetrical and harmonious lines that create the aesthetic sensation of beauty.) Indeed the moral and perfect man was the harmonious man-the one who acted according to the middle path or the ‘golden mean’. So also in the legal sphere, the preservation of harmony in society was paramount and so the squatter was invested with rights which would prevent a situation of eviction and instability.

In the view of Torah though, Truth is the supreme value and any harmony can only exist on a foundation of Truth. If the squatter by his own admission does not have a true claim to the land ,how then can his mere occupation of it, invest him with that claim ?! Although one does not cease from striving to reach other values even though one has reached Truth, still any harmony (especially an everlasting one ) that one aspires towards, must be preceded by the value of Truth.

The Torah’s prioritizing of these values is reflected in 2 of our daily tfilot- “Kaddish” and “Emet Veyatziv”.

In the Kaddish we notice the ordering of the prayer beginning with Kiddush Hashem- “Yitgadal veyitkadash shmei rabah…” that the Truth of Hashem’s sovereignty should be recognised, and ending with ” Oseh shalom bimromav…”, a prayer for peace and harmony. Similarly in “Emet Veyatziv” (the prayer following the kriat Shma ) we declare first – “Emet veyatziv…” the truth and correctness of Hashem’s Torah/words, and conclude ” Vetov veyafeh…” that these words are Good and create harmony.

To return now to the initial question-why does beauty seem to play such an important role in the fulfillment of the mitzvah of Chanuka? From the aforementioned it is now clear, that the machloket between the Greeks and the Torah, hinged greatly around their differences in this issue. For the Greeks beauty was paramount, and one moves from Harmony to Truth, whereas for the Jews, Truth is supreme and we move from Truth to Harmony.

The parshah of ‘Miketz’ always falls during Chanuka and here we find, in the life of Yosef, the ultimate expression of one whose life was “turned upside down”, who experienced such upheavals in pursuit of Truth but who was summoned from the dark dungeon to become the viceroy of Egypt – to bring harmony and light to Egypt and to his brothers as well.

* Footnote:

There are 2 rabbinically instituted holidays- Purim and Chanuka.

Regarding Purim, the mitzvah of reading megillah applies to 3 segments of the population differently.- i.e. people in villages , can read the megillah on the 11th, 12th,or 13th of Adar. Those in cities, on the 14th, whilst those in walled cities on the 15th.No other mitzvah’s fulfillment is affected by “place” as is this. Rav Betzalel Hacohen suggests that the Sages specifically instituted this unusual “kiyum hamitzvah” to underscore the difference between mitzvot originating from the Torah (where all people observe the mitzvah on the same day) and mitzvot Derabanan ,(where different people observe the mitzvah on different dates.) [ Mareh Kohen at end of massechet megillah.]

 My teacher Hagaon Rav Alter Hilewitz z’tzl suggested, in light of the above explanation that with Chanuka too the Sages reminded us of the Rabbinic origins of the Holiday, by instituting the unusual “kiyum hamitzvah” on 3 levels – basic law, mehadrin and mehadrin min hamehadrin .