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Hanukkah Optimal living, optimal Judaism

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Posted: Wednesday, December 28, 2016 10:00 am

The mitzvah of lighting the Hanukkah menorah – one of the most universally observed mitzvot - features an unusual aspect that, when compared to other mitzvot, invites explanation. The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) records a hierarchical list of different ways of fulfilling this mitzvah that represent varied levels of preference and desirability. 

The basic level requires that candles be lit each night of Hanukkah for the entire household. The middle level is that one candle is lit each night for every person in one’s household. One who does so is considered to be a member of the elite group entitled the “Mihadrin.”Rashi (1040-1105) interprets the term to mean “seekers.”Mihadrin are those that proactively look for opportunities to do good. The ultimate level is that one candle is lit the first day, then on each subsequent night the same amount as last night is lit, plus one more. The Talmud refers to those that fulfill this level as “Mihadrin min hamihadrin,” which literally means “the seekers among seekers” – they are outstanding even when compared to other exceptional people. Essentially, this mitzvah can be done in a basic way, a better way, and an ideal way. When considered in the context of the rest of the mitzvot, these three levels are unique. Generally, there is only one way to do a mitzvah, and it is either fulfilled or not fulfilled. Why does the mitzvah of the Hanukkah menorah have these levels?

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