The Torah In Haiku: Pinchas

June 27, 2013Ed Nickow

Sukkot offerings
This was Shammai's evidence
For Hanukkah lights

Many of us are familiar with the Talmudic disagreements between the schools of Hillel and Shammai. Connected to this week's portion is their argument about how to light the Hanukkah candles. Hillel (whose argument prevailed) believed we should light one candle on the first night and increase to eight candles on the last night, because "we raise up in matters of holiness." Shammai argues that we should begin with eight candles and decrease each night, which "corresponds to the bulls [offered] on the festival [of Sukkot]." (BT Shabbat 21b)

The first Hanukkah was actually a delayed celebration of Sukkot by the Maccabees after the Temple had been rededicated, which is why Shammai uses the Sukkot offerings to explain his position. These offerings are outlined In Numbers 29:12-39, where we see that the offerings on each day are virtually identical. Except that the number of bulls decreases from 13 on the first day of Sukkot to 7 on the last day of Sukkot and then 1 bull on Shemini Atzeret. Shammai says that because the number of bulls in the Sukkot offering decreases each day, the candles lit on Hanukkah (the "delayed Sukkot" of the Maccabees) should also decrease each day.

But, "Eilu v'eilu" - both of these (the positions of both Hillel and Shammai) are the words of Adonai - and when the "vote" is taken, Hillel's position is adopted even though it is a rabbinic preference, not (as far as I know) explicitly supported by Torah text. Our scripture is truly a Torat Chayim, a living Torah. Even when the text would appear to support one practice, scholars can discuss and agree on a different tradition.

Ed Nickow is a teacher and member of the Board of Trustees at Temple Chai, Long Grove, IL. This post is from his blog The Torah in Haiku.

Image by Paul Jacobson via Flickr

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