The subject of lighting candles is synonymous with Chanukah. However, a fascinating question arises in the Gemara (Shabbat 23b) as to which candle lighting takes priority if an impoverished person lacked the funds to purchase oil for kindling both a Shabbat light for his house and a Chanukah light.
A Chanukah Story Illuminating the Answer
The answer to this question is highlighted by a story entitled Tranquility Base (page 93) included in the book Around the Maggid’s Table by Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn. The story describes a perplexing scene involving the rebbe Rav Nachum Kaplan (known lovingly as R’ Nachum’ke) of the world famous Chofetz Chaim, R. Yisrael Meir (HaKohen) Kagen (1838-1933). In the story, which took place one night during Chanukah, the Chofetz Chaim is eagerly awaiting the customary lighting of the Chanukah candles by his rebbe. However, what transpired afterwards was most surprising to the Chofetz Chaim as hours transpired and his Rebbe made no overture to light the candles, until “finally, deep into the night, there was a knock at the door.” It was Rav Nachum’s wife. Immediately afterwards, the saintly Rav recited the blessings and lit the Chanukah menorah.
In Rabbi Krohn’s engaging style, he continues that the Chofetz Chaim knew that there was a lesson here and asked for an explanation for the delay. And in the story, Rabbi Krohn also cites the same Talmudic reference I cited above Shabbat 23b as the source to justify the R’ Nachum’ke’s actions.
And the Envelope Please for the Answer
R’Nachum’ke cited the answer which is provided by the Gemara in tractate Shabbat 23b– which is that “purchasing oil for a Shabbat light for his house is preferable on account of the peace it brings to his house.”
R Nachum’ke as the story continues knew that if the Talmud used the Chanukah candle as the focal point to exemplify the importance of shalom bayit, and that he in turn should exercise the same principle and honor his wife by waiting to light the candles in her presence – the absence of which might cause her distress.
The Late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l weighs in on the Topic
“Consider: Chanukah commemorates one of the greatest military victories in Jewish history. Yet Jewish law rules that if we can only light one candle — the Shabbat light takes precedence, because in Judaism the greatest military victory takes second place to peace in the home. Why did Judaism, alone among the civilizations of the ancient world, survive? Because it valued the home more than the battlefield, marriage more than military grandeur, and children more than generals. Peace in the home mattered to our ancestors more than the greatest military victory.”
The Ultimate Role Models for Shalom Bayit
The fourth night of Chanukah, 28th of Kislev, was the 23rd Yarzheit of my beloved father, Esir ben Avraham Benyamin z”l. He and my mother were married for 52 years. It is to their memory that the amuta Together in Happiness is dedicated. Their dedication, understanding and a pureness of heart to each other was a constant example of what shalom bayit should look like.
Despite physical challenges in their older years, the support that they gave each other was inspirational. They advised couples to find ways to grow together and deal with adversity with a positive outlook. Their home was an open house of hospitality and their kindness endeared them to all who crossed their paths. With his humility and extraordinary patience, Esir ben Avraham Benyamin, exemplified the true family man which is what Chanukah is all about. It was only fitting that his death was during Chanukah as he was such a luminary in his lifetime.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l says it best
To quote Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l in the same article The Light of War and the Light of Peace.
“So as we celebrate Chanukah, spare a thought for the real victory, which was not military but spiritual. Jews were the people who valued marriage, the home, and peace between husband and wife, above the highest glory on the battlefield. In Judaism, the light of peace takes precedence over the light of war.”
Shalom bayit is the cornerstone of our faith. On this day of Rosh Chodesh Tevet which also celebrates women, may we dedicate ourselves to making the home as a source of warmth and illumination and harmony. And may this Chanukah represent the turning point for conquering the Coronavirus and spreading our light to the nations in shalom.