OHR TZVI ON THE PARSHA: CHANUKAH – SHIELD CHILDREN FROM BAD OR INCULCATE THEM WITH GOOD?

Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

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We start our Chanukah by lighting that solo light on Chanukah’s first night.

Those lights, then, duet when we add a second flame on Chanukah’s second night.

We then continue adding lights – one additional light each additional night – until we climax in an eight-light symphony.

This continuous adding of lights reflects the view of Hillel who: “added new flames”[1] every night. The Gemara explains Hillel’s reasoning. It’s because he believed in the principle of “increasing holiness” – that we’re duty-bound to continually embellish mitzvos. So we add one additional light, each Chanukah night. [2]

Hillel’s counterpart, Shamai, took a different approach. On Chanuka’s first night, Shamai didn’t light just one flame. He, rather, lit eight flames. On Chanukah’s second night, he lit seven flames. He, then, continued decreasing his flames – lighting one less light, each passing night – until he concluded with one flame on Chanukah’s last night.

Shamai doesn’t dispute Hillel’s principle about “increasing holiness.” He accepts this principle. He just doesn’t apply it on Chanukah. And that’s because Chanuka focuses on our triumphs in the wars that we waged against our Greeks enemies. Thos triumphs didn’t happen through open miracles.” That, rather, happened by Hashem “naturally” decreasing our enemies’ powers. Hashem did that by having them make mistakes in one area. And by having them strategize badly in another area. And so and so on, until they were weakened enough to be defeated by our ragtag forces.

That was a natural, gradual “decrease of bad.” We commemorate this gradual decrease by gradually decreasing our flames.

So in that balancing act between “increasing holiness” and “decreasing bad,” by Chanukah, Shamai gives precedence to “decreasing bad.”

Hillel accepts that both of these needs – “increasing holiness” and “decrease bad” – exist. He also juggles the need to balance both of these needs. Hillel, though, feels that even on Chanukah, the need to “increase holiness” overrides the need to memorialize “decreasing bad.”

Hillel’s and Shamai’s different views about whether to emphasize “decreasing bad” or “increasing holiness” also express themselves elsewhere. One such place is a Gemara that discusses the standards that are required for conversion. [3]

Hillel allowed these people to start the conversion process, despite their lackadaisical standards. And that’s because he assumed that the conversion process – with its exposure to yiddishkeit’s beauty – would motivate an eventual full embrace of mitzvos.[4]

Hillel couldn’t be certain that all these people would fully embrace all mitzvos. He, nonetheless, let them start the conversion process. And that’s because he didn’t focus on what would go wrong if mitzvos weren’t fully embraced. He, rather, focused on what can go right.

Shamai, by way of contrast, didn’t let those weak candidates start the conversion process. Shamai was afraid that their noncommittal attitudes would preclude a full embrace of mitzvos.

Shamai, then, focused more on what can go wrong and less on what can go right.

Hillel’s and Shamai’s viewpoints display themselves in many life arenas, including that of chinuch.

Chinuch, more than most life arenas, involves these two dimensions.

Chinuch is about shielding our children from unhealthy values. It’s about worrying about what can go wrong.

Chinuch is also about showing our children yiddishkeit’s beauty. It’s also about demonstrating what can go right.

We must, of course, do both. We must shield children from bad. And we must inculcate them with good.

We wonder, though, about the ratio: How much energy should we expend shielding them from bad? And how much energy should we expend inculcating them with good?

Shamai would, likely, suggest expending extra effort shielding from bad. Hillel would, likely, suggest expending extra effort inculcating good.

While both Hillel’s and Shamai’s view are cogent – because Hillels’ view prevails in halacha – Hillel’s view should prevail here. And that means that less of our chinuch energy be spent repudiating bad. And more of that energy should be expended highlighting yiddishkeit’s warmth and meaningfulness.

That means that we should be demonstrating what yiddishkeit can afford us. And those demonstrations shouldn’t just focus on what’s afforded us in rewards set aside for the next world – because those rewards aren’t quantifiable. Those demonstrations must also include displays of what yiddishkeit affords us in this world.

In the warmth of a loving, joyous Shabbos seudah. In the power of passionate mitzvos. In all the other benefits of a yiddishkeit that affords family stability, community structure and generosities of soul that just aren’t found elsewhere.

Let’s show our children what’s right.

Once they see what’s right they’ll be less challenged by what’s wrong.

[1] Shabbos 21b

[2] Ibid.

[3] Shabbos, 31a

[4] Rashash ad loc.