Why Do We Add a Light for Eight Nights?

Why Do We Add a Light for Eight Nights?
James Scott Trimm

Why do we light eight lights, adding a light for each day of Channukah?

Actually, the question of whether to begin lighting with one light and proceed, adding one each night, until there are eight on the eighth night of Chanukah or do just the opposite, begin with eight lights and end with one, was a matter of debate when Yeshua was just a child. In fact, it was one of the famous “machlokot,” or disagreements, between two of the great sages of Israel, Hillel and Shammai, as recorded in the Talmud:

Our Rabbis taught: The precept of Hanukkah [demands] one light for a man and his household;  the zealous [kindle] a light for each member [of the household]; and the extremely zealous, — Beth Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced; , but Beth Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased. ‘Ulla said: In the West [Palestine] two amoraim, R. Jose b. Abin and R. Jose b. Zebida, differ therein: one maintains, The reason of Beth Shammai is that it shall correspond to the days still to come, and that of Beth Hillel is that it shall correspond to the days that are gone; but another maintains: Beth Shammai’s reason is that it shall correspond to the bullocks of the Festival; whilst Beth Hillel’s reason is that we promote in [matters of] sanctity but do not reduce.

Rabbah b. Bar Hana said: There were two old men in Sidon: one did as Beth Shammai and the other as Beth Hillel: the former gave the reason of his action that it should correspond to the bullocks of the Festival, while the latter stated his reason because we promote in [matters of] sanctity but do not reduce.
(b.Shabbat 21b)

Within Rabbinic literature we have record of over 350 disputes between the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai. Generally Shammai gave the stricter interpretation, while Hillel’s understandings were more relaxed.

The Zohar (in Zohar (Ra’aya Meheimna) 3:245a) tells us that the positions of the House of Shammai were rooted in GEVURAH (“severity”) while the positions of the House of Hillel were rooted in CHESED (“grace”/”mercy”)

This is very significant. In Mark’s account of Yeshua’s summary of the Torah (Mk. 12:28-33) A “scribe” comes to question Yeshua. In Matthew’s account this “scribe” is identified as a Pharisee (Mt. 22:34-36). According to Mark’s account this Pharisee not only agreed with Yeshua’s summary of Torah and repeated it adding:

…and to love his neighbor as himself,
is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
(Mt. 12:33b)

It is not unlikely from this context that the Pharisee was quoting a now-lost saying of Hillel here. In making this statement the Pharisee, who apparently was from the School of Hillel, was pointing to Hosea 6:6:

For I [YHWH] desire mercy (CHESED), and not sacrifice;
and the knowledge of ELOHIM more than burnt offerings.

This Pharisee seems to have identified “love your neighbor” of Lev. 19:18 with the CHESED of Hosea 6:6. Remember the relaxed halachic positions of the School of Hillel were based on CHESED, it is indeed likely that Hosea 6:6 served as a proof text for many of their halachic rulings, since this passage assigns a halachic weight to CHESED. We also find Yeshua using Hosea 6:6 in support of his relaxed halachic rulings regarding the Shabbat (Mt. 12:7 = Hosea 6:6) here Yeshua argues from Hosea 6:6 that CHESED is of greater weight than the sacrifices. Since CHESED out weighs sacrifice, and sacrifice out weighs Shabbat, then CHESED out weighs Shabbat.

It seems that both Yeshua and Hillel emphasised love for all men, taught the “golden rule” and had many of their halachic rulings rooted in CHESED (“mercy”).

When we add a candle each day for each of the eight days of Channukah, it represents the expanding nature of CHESED (mercy) as opposed to the contracting nature of GEVURAH (severity).


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