Menorah photo by Ariella Brown

Hillel and Shamai had different views about the order in which Chanukah candles should be lit. Beis Shamai’s view was that the candles should parallel the cows offered during Sukkos, which began with the full number but went down one each day. As we know, we follow the opinion of Beis Hillel, which is to begin with one and add on a candle each successive night.

The way we light, we progress forward to build up to greater and greater light. There are a number of lessons that can drawn from this halachic ruling. One is perspective on what defines progress.We tend to think of progress in terms of technological or material advances. But the real progress one is to make through life is to bring out more light — not more stuff, but the intangible flame of Torah. Another lesson is about planning out one’s life.

In Made in Heaven: A Jewish Wedding Guide, (Moznaim Publishing, 1983 p. 32), Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan quotes an insight from his friend, Rabbi Shmuel Mendelson on the ramifications of taking the Beis Shamis approach versus that of taking that of Beis Hillel…

Rabbi Mendelson observed that Beis Shamai’s approach is followed by those who believe they must start out married life with everything. They are the ones who would register for the expensive china and silver sets, buy full suites of Italian furniture, and set it all up in a home they cannot afford to keep up. “When they begin, they have everything.” But when reality sets in and their income cannot keep up with their expenses, “they find their lives diminishing.”

Then there are couples who see the wisdom of Beis Hillel’s approach in their own life. “They can start off with one candle – with very little.” These are the ones who make do with a modest apartment furnished with second-hand pieces and dishes that are priced by the set rather than the place setting. So they do not begin in a blaze of glory. “But for the rest of their life they are adding.”