This week we have a unique opportunity to experience two types of candle lighting, Shabbat and Chanukah. The Talmud (Shabbat 23b) teaches that if one can only afford a single candle and is unable to perform both the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles and Chanukah candles, then נר ביתו (שבת) עדיף משום שלום ביתו – one should rather light Shabbat candles and not light Chanukah candles. The importance of the mitzvah of Shabbat candles notwithstanding, it seems remarkable that the Talmud chose to prioritize it this way. After all, through the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles, one can achieve פרסומי ניסא – publicizing the miracle, a value which drives and defines virtually every aspect of this mitzvah. The mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles is defined by Rambam as a “מצוה חביבה” an exceedingly precious mitzvah, a term never used by Rambam for any other mitzvah. Yet, despite the great significance of this mitzvah, in a situation of limited resources, it yields to the lights of the mitzvah of Shabbat candles. What is the message behind this ruling?
There are many explanations, but one consideration is that the mitzvah of Shabbat candles is performed every week. We are, therefore, quite accustomed to and familiar with this particular mitzvah. On the other hand, the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles is less familiar and, in many respects, exciting and remarkable. There is a tendency for many of us to expend greater attention and effort on the less ordinary and memorable moments in life than on the more familiar and mundane aspects of every day. This is particularly true within the realm of marriage, where one may devote much time to preparing for a special event, such as an anniversary celebration, yet fail to adequately attend to the “regular” and “everyday” needs of the relationship. By choosing to prioritize the mitzvah of Shabbat candles which signifies “Shalom Bayit” – the harmony in the home, over Chanukah candles, Chachamim are signalling us to correct this common tendency.
Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov & Chanukah Sameach,
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay
Remember to light the Chanukah candles (that will burn for half an hour after Shabbat comes in) before lighting the Shabbat candles on Friday (erev Shabbat). Whereas on Motzai Shabbat, we do the opposite. First, make Havdalah and then light the Chanukah candles.