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Can I light all eight candles on the first night of Chanukah?

by Rabbi Tzvi Shapiro

  

Library » Holidays » Chanukah » The Laws | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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The Short Answer:

No. The candles must be lit in progressive order, beginning with one and culminating with all eight.

The Askmoses Answer: 

The Chanukah candles are not just decorations; they are symbols. They tell a story. There is meaning behind, and therefore order in, the lights. There is an argument in the Talmud regarding the order of that order, but all agree there must be order. Festivity is a matter of taste, but messages must be conveyed via structured formats.

According to the Talmudic Academy of Shamai you do in fact light all eight candles on the first night, but this is not random or arbitrary. According to this opinion the order is in the reverse: on the first night you light eight, on the second night seven, on the third night six etc.

This opinion replicates the descending order of the Musaf sacrifices in the Temple during the holiday of Sukkot; the first day thirteen, second day twelve, etc. In this way the Chanukah Menorah reminds us of the Holy Temple in more ways than one.1

The Chanukah candles are not just decorations; they are symbols. They tell a story.
The Academy of Hillel was of the opinion that the Chanukah candles should be lit in ascending order as, “One ascends in matters of holiness, never going down.” This teaches us not to be content with yesterday's celebration of Judaism; if I did one Mitzvah yesterday, today I ought to do two.

In general, whenever there is an argument between the two schools, we follow the way of Hillel. Thus the accepted practice is to light in ascending order. This is actually alluded to in the very word “Chanukah” which is an acronym for CHet Nerot V'Halacha K'bait Hillel – eight candles and the law is in accordance to the school of Hillel.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained the difference between the two schools as being the difference between highlighting the actual and the potential. Shamai highlights that on the first night of Chanukah there are eight days left to the miracle. Hillel expresses that today is day one of the miracle.

Thus it isn't that one opinion is right and the other wrong. "They are both the opinion of the living G-d”, it is just two perspectives of one reality. Today we focus on the Hillel perspective because we live in a world where we can only appreciate, and therefore only celebrate, what we have. When Moshiach comes, we will attain a higher level of spiritual awareness and the laws will follow Shamai.

Footnotes

  • 1. The miracle of the oil in the Chanukah story, and the order of the sacrifices on Sukkot.

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Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Moshiach
The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Sukkot
A seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
Chanukah
An eight day mid-winter holiday marking: 1) The miraculous defeat of the mighty Syrian-Greek armies by the undermanned Maccabis in the year 140 BCE. 2) Upon their victory, the oil in the Menorah, sufficient fuel for one night only, burned for eight days and nights.
Rebbe
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
Lubavitcher
One who follows the teachings of the Chassidic group which was formerly based in the Belarus village of Lubavitch. Today, the movement is based in Brooklyn, New York with branches worldwide. The Lubavitch movement is also widely known as "Chabad."
Musaf
The additional prayer service added (after the morning prayers) on Sabbath, Biblically mandated holidays and the first day of the Jewish month.
Menorah
Candelabra. Usually a reference to the nine-branched candelabra kindled on the holiday of Chanukah.
Halacha
Jewish Law. All halacha which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.