Free translation and adaptation of a discourse by
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Chanukah 5714 (1953)

This maamer elaborates a discourse by
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dov Baer Schneerson
Chanukah 5654 (1893)

by Rabbi David Rothschild



A Chassidic discourse is the most developed form of the inner Torah. Every word is sculpted by Divine Inspiration. Delivered to coincide with a weekly Torah reading or Jewish festival, these discourses make a spiritual connection with auspicious times.

Concepts from Kabbala and Zohar are developed to perfection. Their relevance to the Five Books of Moses and Tanach (Old Testament) as well as passages from the Talmud is expounded upon. This reveals their "inner meaning."

These discourses presuppose a familiarity with Torah. Perhaps for these reasons, only a handful has been translated into English and published as books by the Kehot Publication Society.

Over the course of two hundred years, the Lubavitcher Rebbes delivered thousands of discourses. Now for the first time they are being made public on the Internet.

In the texts that follow an attempt was made to abridge and elucidate their content. To provide background information for difficult terms and concepts, additional material from other Chassidic discourses, appears in brackets. The remaining content is a free translation.



Part 1 (of 2)




The First Century BCE sages Hillel and Shamai differ on how to light Chanukah candles. Shamai is of the opinion that on the first night of Chanukah eight candles are lit. During each succeeding night of Chanukah, one less candle is lit. Shamai draws support from the cattle sacrifice of the Succoth holiday. On the first day of Succoth eight cattle are sacrificed. On the second day only seven are. On each succeeding day one less steer is sacrificed.

Hillel disagreed. He said that on the first night of Chanukah only one candle is lit. On each succeeding night an additional candle is added. Eight candles are therefore kindled on the eighth night of Chanukah. His reasoning is based on the principle that one must constantly increase in holiness.

This follows a Talmudic dictum that whenever the Sages institute new practices (such as Chanukah lights), their ruling must be compatible with a principle of the Torah. The notion of "increasing in holiness" is a general rule in Torah. That's why Hillel wanted to add additional lights each night of Chanukah.

Hillel actually agreed with Shamai that Chanukah lights are similar to the decreasing cattle sacrifices of Succoth. It was only due to another consideration - increasing in holiness - that he differed in the method of lighting Chanukah candles.

Why Eight?

The obvious similarity of Chanukah to Succoth is that both holidays last eight days. Also, the menorah is lit after sunset. This resembles a succah whose roof must block out sunlight. If more sunlight enters its roof than shade, the succah isn't kosher. Nevertheless, the question remains why the holiday of Chanukah was established to last eight days.

Miracle Calculation

[After the Hashmanites defeated the Greeks, they wanted to resume the Temple's activities. One of the Temple's features was a seven-branched menorah. Every afternoon its candles were kindled with new olive oil. Only ritually pure substances (and people) were permitted inside the Temple. The Greeks, though, intentionally defiled everything they found, including olive oil.]

When the Hashmanites entered the Temple they discovered a single flask of ritual oil, sealed with the imprint of the High Priest. Similar to those previously used, the flask contained the precise amount of oil required to fill the menorah's seven candles. But rather than burn out the following morning, this one-day portion of oil miraculously burned for seven additional days.

[A full week was needed to produce new olive oil. Warfare had rendered the Jews ritually impure, having come in contact with the dead. As it takes a week to become ritually pure, workers had to wait until they could make fresh oil.]

Go Figure

Apparently, the miracle lasted only seven days, as there was sufficient oil for the first day. Scholars have been unsuccessful in answering this dilemma. One suggestion is that Chanukah still was an eight-day miracle because the flask's contents were divided into eight equal portions, one portion for each succeeding day.

[The Hashmanites understood it would take a week before new oil arrived. They decided to use less than the required amount each day. That way, at least, the menorah would be lit every afternoon, even though its oil wouldn't last through the night.]

Another solution is the entire flask was emptied into the seven candles on the first day. Miraculously, the oil wasn't consumed. It lasted eight days.

Alternatively, the flask may have remained miraculously full. Each day they poured its contents into the seven candles. Rather than be left holding an empty flask, the flask itself was completely filled with oil.

Miracle Dilemma

None of these explanations solve the miracle problem. The first day didn't require a miracle. After all, on the first day the candles were given the proper amount of oil. A miracle was only necessary for the remaining seven days.

The dilemma persists even if the oil had originally been divided into eight equal portions. In this scenario, a miracle was evident on the first day as well. Oil, which should have lasted but a few hours, instead, burned a full day. The eight-day miracle quandary, though, still isn't solved.

While a miracle may have transpired in this meager quantity of oil, nevertheless, a miracle wasn't necessary on the first day. Rather than parcel out the oil for eight days, they could have used all the oil solely for the first day. There was sufficient oil for the first day. A miracle was only necessary for the remaining seven days. The question remains; why was Chanukah established to last eight days and not just seven?

The only possible explanation is the parallel of Chanukah to Succoth. Just as Succoth is observed eight days, so too Chanukah.

A Better Question

Why are Chanukah menorahs lit after sunset? Another rule guides the establishment of new practices by the Sages. Everything they enact must be consistent with pre-existing Torah practices.

The Torah informs how the Temple's menorah must be lit in the afternoon hours, a full seventy-two minutes prior to sunset. What's more, Chanukah candles were instituted specifically because of the Temple menorah.

All the olive oil was defiled. The Temple's menorah couldn't be used. Then, a flask of ritually clean oil was discovered. The menorah could be lit! Due to the miracles surrounding this flask and the subsequent ability to finally re-light the Temple menorah, the mitzvah of Chanukah lights was established. Why then, does the Chanukah menorah differ from the Temple menorah it is derived from, and lit only after sunset?

This only emphasizes the intrinsic connection between Chanukah and Succoth. Just as a succah must generate more shade than sunlight, so too the Chanukah menorah is lit after dark.

Sun Flight

The Midrash relates how man flees from the extreme heat of the July sun. Similarly, the Jews fled from the harsh decrees of the Greek Military Governor of Syria, Antiochos. But the Hashmanites, by virtue of their strengthened faith, didn't flee. On the contrary, the Greeks fled from before them!

This explains why Chanukah candles are lit after sunset. Their intent is to force the setting of the idolatrous "sun." One of the Hebrew names for the sun is Hamah; it is also the name for the prototype of evil - the wicked kelipah of Ham.


Different Suns

King David writes in Psalms, "For the L-rd G-d is as the Sun and its sheath." The sun possesses an enormous amount of intense light. To enable creatures to receive its light, a shield covers the sun.

Through this shield, which blocks out the essence of the sun, light shines to earth. It is this shield that we see, not the sun itself.

Jews set their calendar by the lunar cycle. Non-Jews use the sun. Jews don't use the sun because what we see really isn't the sun at all. It's just the shield.

The verse compares G-d/L-rd to sun/shield because G-d also covers Himself, so to speak. King David uses the sun analogy to explain how the essence of "G-d" is shielded and concealed by (His functioning as) "L-rd." Both G-d and L-rd are names for G-d. They have, however, completely different meanings (especially in terms of how the creation is effected).

Trace Element

[Kabbala utilizes the term seferah or emanation in its Divine paradigm of creation. A seferah is composed of two elements: its light and its vessel. First, the light of a particular seferah radiates outward into space. Cognizant of its source above and longing to become reunited there, the light retreats back. A residue, though, is left behind. Through a process of retreat and re-emanation, the leftover light-residue becomes thicker and thicker. Eventually a vessel for the light is formed. Now the light can be grasped, concealed and ultimately revealed to lower observers. Vessels, however, possess a source independent from that of the light.

Prior to creation, G-d's Infinite Light filled "space." That light was concealed to allow for creation. An infinitesimal trace of the Divine instrument or power which effected this concealment remained after creation. Then, when the primordial seferahs shone into "space," they first had to pass through this Divine Power of Concealment residue. That's what enables their light to become its own means of concealment - its vessel. The Divine power to reveal is referred to as "G-d." The Divine power to conceal is the "L-rd."].

Don't let it Shine

The name "G-d" (the four-letter name) is the source of light. The second name David used, "L-rd", is the source of the vessels. The function of vessels is to conceal the light which is inside them. While vessels do indeed reveal some of their light to outsiders, that revelation wouldn't be possible if they hadn't first concealed the essence of their light. Essence of light is categorically above the possibility of being revealed. That the vessels allow some light to shine forth is made possible by their initial concealment of the light's essence. This is due to the nature of the vessels' source, the name L-rd - the Power of Concealment.


[As the light descends through vessels it becomes more and more diminished. At he bottom of each set of seferos, light is so refracted that "curtains" form. A parallel paradigm to seferos is Hebrew letters. Vessels are really letters. Curtains are described as scrambled letters which don't make sense. That's why curtains conceal light to a much greater degree than vessels.]

After vessels, the L-rd brought into existence curtains. Curtains differ from vessels in that the latter do in fact reveal light. The primary function of curtains, though, is to withhold light. The light above a curtain is of a higher quality and intensity than what manages to "break" through. That's why the first appearance of independent spiritual entities only occurs after curtains. Being that their source is the name L-rd connoting the Power of Concealment, curtains conceal.

In truth curtains serve a purpose similar to vessels. While curtains conceal, their intention is to make light available to recipients below them. Indeed, physical creation wouldn't be possible without curtains. Light needs to be further reduced to animate created entities. Nevertheless curtains remain agents of concealment, being that their source is the L-rd.

Concealment Worship

At the end of this multi-layered system of vessels and curtains, concealment reaches the degree that people begin to worship it. Notwithstanding the fact that the real purpose of concealment is revelation, being that it conceals, people bow down before the sun - that is the sun's shield, the power of concealment.

How is this possible? Moses admonished the Jews, "Lest you raise your eyes to the sky, view the sun, moon and the stars, and become misled to worship them. For G-d the L-rd allocated them to the nations of the world." G-d set them up; He gave them no alternative but to err, due to nature of their source - "the L-rd" - the Power of Concealment. This is the distinction between Jews and non-Jews. Jewish souls originate from the name G-d as it is written, "You are G-d's children."

What's more, "the L-rd" is a compound word: Elo-heem. The first half is one of G-d's other names: Elo-ha. The second half covers up this name. Being that the nations of the world issue from the second half of the name L-rd, even though the purpose of this concealment is to ultimately reveal, nevertheless they do not sense this intention. That's why they worship the sun's shield.

Noah's son Ham perpetuated this form of idol worship after the Flood. Ham is the Hebrew word for the sun shield. It also means heat, as in the burning lust of passion; a correlation between the worship of concealment and lust.

[This is the template of non-Jewish perspective, whether for Ham's actual descendents or his spiritual heirs.]

Providence Problem

A tenet of non-Jewish theology is G-d abandoned the Earth and left its affairs to be directed by the planets and constellations. It is beneath G-d's dignity to lower Himself to supervise Earthly affairs. Therefore He abandoned Earth to the hands of planets and constellations. They in turn bestow life-force and guidance from above. As the source of life and success is dependent on these intermediaries, it is incumbent to worship them.

An error in logic is apparent from their very claims. The heavens and the Earth are of comparative value to each other. While it's true the Earth is but a grain compared to the universe, nevertheless, the two are relatively equal.

Celestial objects, after all, influence the Earth. Sunlight is necessary for life. It is thus equally "degrading" for G-d to lower Himself to the Earth as it is to lower Himself to the heavens. Relative to Infinity, all types of finitude, whether in the sky or on the ground, are equal.

On the other hand, non-Jews admit G-d indeed lowers Himself to conduct affairs in heaven. It follows that G-d likewise supervises every detail on Earth. This is especially evident regarding the Jews. The Jewish People are compared to a lone sheep amongst seventy wolves. The fact they remain intact is the most compelling proof G-d is personally involved in the direction of Earthly affairs.


[on to Part 2]


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