Monday, December 15, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #11

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:11) “The custom of lighting is as follows: on the first night, one lights the candle which is furthest to the right. On the second night, one adds a second candle and lights the new candle and moving towards the right, lights the candle at the far right. On each night one adds a candle more to the left and lights that first. He then proceeds from left to right.”
Rav Nachman of Tcherin wrote in his Nachas Hashulchan, zt”l, that this halachah relates to the first lesson in Likutei Moharan, where Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that one must search for the “intellect” within everything in order to come closer to Hashem. We must contemplate deeply into every situation and realize in a deep place that this situation was tailor made for me by the Creator. For this reason, I can come close to Hashem through anything. If one merits this understanding, he will feel incredible illumination and be able to elevate anything to Hashem. However, since the light of true understanding is very great, one can only receive it through constriction. This means that the light of true understanding comes to one slowly, level by level. I may know that I must overcome a certain weakness but that alone will not help me do it. I have to progress slowly, step by step, until I have achieved my goal. Sometimes this can take many years.
It is well known that Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, said that it is easier to learn through the entire Talmud than to truly master a bad character trait. Many people feel discouraged when they hear this. However, the truth is that one who thinks about it will be very encouraged by this statement. We all know that it is impossible to finish Shas in a few months, or even a few years, of hard effort (at least for the first time)—and that such accelerated study usually means that the material hasn’t been learned in depth. So too, we must realize that it is impossible to overcome our negative character traits overnight with some sort of quick-fix solution.
Reb Nosson, zt”l, said that one who breaks a bad character trait is left with two! Rav Yisroel of Ruzhin also made a similar statement and explained that the two are the original, in addition to a new dose of arrogance, since the person mistakenly believes that he has overcome the bad inside of him. The way one overcomes a bad character trait is by yearning to change and praying about it and searching for advice about how to change it. This way, one slowly takes in the understanding necessary for lasting change. This is the concept of constricting one’s understanding. One has a lot of patience and does his best, realizing that any real change comes only from the Almighty. We must do our part but we must remember that “Hashem is not a tyrant.” Improving our character takes time because that is the Creator’s will. In the meantime, we keep starting over until the correct time for the change comes.
This is the reason why one orders the candles from right to left in the menorah, but lights from left to right. We start with whatever understanding we can take in (from the right) and slowly overcome the bad (which is represented by the left side) with our ever increasing understanding. The truth is that there are two other opinions brought in the Mishnah Berurah regarding which candle to start with and what the meaning of “all of your turnings should be to the right.” The common denominator is that all agree that you start with the right which represents the light of understanding. As the verse says, “The heart of the wise one is to his right.” Then one overcomes the challenges that were originally generated by acting without the light of understanding. Slowly we increase the light, adding one candle a night, as we steadily rectify our bad tendencies a little at a time.

7 comments:

Shorty said...

i'm not sure i understand...

Micha Golshevsky said...

Thank you for the comment. If you didn't understand, presumably others didn't as well.
If you write what you think may have been unclear I will try and explain more fully.
I noticed that I made an allusion at the end that is not so clear, is that what you mean?

Shorty said...

I didn't really understand the left and right "inclinations" and why we set up candles from one side but light towards the other...

thanks :)

Anonymous said...

G-d bless you and yours.
Thank you for an enlightening explanation. at my level as a believing gentile, i feel i understand what you wrote. thanks.

Micha Golshevsky said...

Shorty: Lets say someone lights small cups of oil. On the second night they refill the first cup and place another cup on the left. They light the new light first and then the one next to it. Same goes for the third night etc.
It is preferable to light the new candle since the miracle is more recognizable through it. (Since yesterday, one lit one in a certain position, the first candle in a certain position and one lights another candle next to it on the second night, the new candle symbolizes the extra miracle of the light which burned yet another night.
Some halachic authorities argue with the Kitzur and say that one should light the right candle first since the Talmud states that if there is a choice one should always turn to the right. (For example, if one is lost at a crossroads there is an advantage to choosing right.) In order to light the newer candle first one always sets up that day's added candle to the right of all earlier candles.
I was merely pointing out that since the Arizal teaches (brought in very many halachic sources) that the right side-- the stronger side of most of the world--represents kindness. Both opinions mentioned focus on the right. Their dispute is merely in what manner one best arouses the kindness of the right side. Either by lighting from left to right or by lighting the right most candle first.
Thank you again for the comment. I will consider incorporating this in the text so that it is clearer.
If anything is still unclear please let me know and I will try and explain.

Micha Golshevsky said...

Anonymous: Thank you for your comment. Does my response to Shorty make this piece clearer to you?

Shorty said...

yes that helps! thank you!