Monday, December 18, 2006

Chanukah 5631 Third Night

In Maseches Shabbos we find two opposing views regarding which side of the doorway to light the Chanukah candles. The Sfas Emes explains this debate. He notes the pasuk in Mishlei, “אורך ימים בימינה בשמאלה עושר וכבוד/Orech yamim bimina bismolah osher vechavod/Length of days is in its right hand; in its left hand are riches and honor.” Right and left are common analogies for the principle aspect of something vs. a related aspect of secondary importance. Consequently, Chazal teach us that the first part of this pasuk refers to the next world while the second part of the pasuk refers to this world. This world is a tool for us to reach the next world. This world is subordinate to the next world.

“Left” also suggests pushing away. Chazal teach us regarding child rearing among other things that one should push away with the left hand and bring close with the right. In this world we push away the physical in favor of the spiritual.

Since the right indicates the main thing, we place the mezuzah on the right side of the doorway. This also explains the view that we light Chanukah candles on the right side of the doorway. However, the halachah follows the other view of lighting on the left side of the entrance. Why? In order to understand this we must understand the main point of the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles. The principle spiritual effect of this mitzvah is to displace spiritual darkness with spiritual enlightenment. This was the effect of the original miracle and continues to be the effect of the mitzvah each year. The left side represents spiritual darkness. This is why we light specifically on the left side. It is there that the spiritual power of this mitzvah is needed and is effective. It is specifically in the spiritual darkness represented by the left side that there is room for us to rectify the world and ourselves.

Rashi explains the pasuk, “ימינך ה' נאדרי בכח ימינך ה' תרעץ אויב/Yemincha HaShem nedari bako’ach yemincha HaShem tir’atz oyeiv/Your right hand, God, is most powerful; Your right hand, God, crushes the foe.” He answers the question why the pasuk repeats the words, “your right hand.” Rashi says that when revenge is taken against the wicked even the “left” becomes the “right.” The significance of the “left” becoming the “right” is spiritual light vs. spiritual darkness. Adding to God’s honor and glory is symbolized by the “right.” Lighting Chanukah candles on the left side of the doorway represents bringing spiritual light to the left side thereby turning it into the “right side.”

There is an obvious connection between the first half of the pasuk in Mishlei and the mitzvah of mezuzah. The mezuzah is attached to the right doorpost and the pasuk in Mishlei states, “… אורך ימים בימינה/Orech yamim bimina …/Length of days is in its right hand …” Regarding the mitzvah of mezuzah the Torah states, “... למען ירבו ימיכם .../… lema’an yirbu yemeichem …/… in order to lengthen your days …” However, why is the left side associated with riches and honor?

In order to answer this question we first need to understand what wealth means. The mishnah in Maseches Avos teaches that a wealthy person is one who is happy with his lot. The Maharal explains that the mishnah is giving us a definition of a wealthy person. A definition must relate only to the person and not to any external cause. Something external to the person cannot define him. This is why the mishnah does not say that a wealthy person is someone with lots of money. Having lots of money, in and of itself, does not automatically define a person as rich. He could have been born into a family with lots of money. He could have won a lottery ticket. In either case, the fact that he has a lot of money does not define him. Only that which comes from within us - our outlook and actions - can define us. The mishnah teaches us that this outlook is our attitude towards our assets.

This is why the Mishnah brings as a proof the pasuk, “יגיע כפיך כי תאכל אשריך וטוב לך/Yegi’a kapecha ki sochal ashrecha vetov lach/If you eat the toil of your hands, you are praiseworthy, and it is good for you.” A person can be defined as wealthy if he eats the labor of his own hands. A person who was born into wealth is not necessarily a wealthy person. This is God given money. God gives each of us exactly what we need. Wealth is that which we do for ourselves above our needs.

The Sfas Emes explains that this definition of wealth refers not only to money. It applies to every aspect of what we do in our lives. Every action that replaces spiritual darkness with spiritual light, every action that turns the “left” into the “right”, every action whose result is a rectification, adds to our “wealth and honor.” This is why the end of the pasuk in Mishlei associates the left with riches and honor. The "left" is where we can grow and rectify ourselves and the world. The left represents the darkness to which we can add light. Riches and honor are the result of our actions, not what God gives us unconditionally.

May we all merit, through our actions, especially the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah lights to supplant darkness with light, to turn the “left” into the “right.”


Dovid'l Weinberg said...


Moshe David Tokayer said...

Thanks. I also thought this was great vort especially the Maharal's explanation of wealth and the Sfas Emes's expansion that it applies to everything we do not just physical assets.