Friday, December 8, 2017

Chanukah Customs


Compiled and annotated by Dovid Sears and Dovid Zeitlin

This list of customs especially reflects those of Reb Gedaliah Kenig and the Tzefat Breslov community, although it includes a number of general Breslov customs, as well.


Introduction:

The Rebbe states: Through the mitzvah of the Chanukah lights, we come to recognize G-d’s Glory, which is elevated and magnified throughout the world. Those who are distant from holiness are awakened to return to G-d; and we attain awe of G-d, peace in our homes, and the power of prayer. All strife and evil speech are nullified, and universal peace spreads through all of the worlds.

(Likkutei Moharan I, 14)


*

He also states that through the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah lamp, we internalize holy da’as, which is the awareness of G-dliness. This is the paradigm of “good oil,” the paradigm of “remembrance.” That is, through the Chanukah lights we are privy to “remember” the World to Come -- the transcendental realm that is the point of origin of the soul and its ultimate destination -- even in the midst of this world.

(Ibid. I, 54)


The Chanukah Menorah

Reb Gedaliah Kenig was particular to use olive oil for lighting the Chanukah Menorah. This is the mitzvah min ha-muvchar, the optimal way to perform the mitzvah.


(See Rama on Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 673:1. However, wax or paraffin candles are also acceptable, as the Shulchan Arukh states.)


*

Most Menorahs have an extra place for a ninth light, set apart from the rest, called the “shamash.” In addition to this, Reb Gedaliah would use a second shamash, a wax candle, to light the wicks; and when finished, he would place it in a separate holder to the side of the Menorah. This seems to reflect a hiddur in halakhah, in that adding the light of the shamash prevents one from inadvertently making mundane use of the Chanukah lights.

(See Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 673:1 regarding the custom of lighting an extra candle)


*

The conclusion of the blessing before lighting the Menorah is "le-hadlik ner Chanukah," in keeping with the custom of the ARI zal. The initial letters of these three words spell the Divine Name "NaCHaL" (literally “river” or “brook”). Reb Noson homiletically relates this to the "Nachal Novea Mekor Chokhmah (A Flowing Brook, the Source of Wisdom)," a euphemism for the Rebbe. (The initial letters of this phrase from Proverbs 18:4 spell the name “Nachman.”)

(Cf. Rabbi Chaim Vital, Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chanukah, chapter 4, which explains that this Divine Name brings about an outflow of the supernal light of Binah to Ze’er Anpin; Reb Noson relates this to “Nachal Novea Mekor Chokhmah” in Likkutei Halakhos, Betzias ha-Pas 5:27; ibid. Kiddushin 2:3)

*

Reb Gedaliah did not wear Shabbos clothes while lighting the Chanukah Menorah (except on Erev Shabbos Chanukah and Motza’ei Shabbos Chanukah). However, some wear a bekitcheh in honor of Chanukah.

(This seems to have been the common custom among Russian and Ukrainian Chassidim, among others; e.g. Skver-Chernobyl, Chabad, Karlin-Stolin, Boyan-Rizhin, et al. However, many Hungarian Chassidim wear a shtreimel and bekitcheh while lighting the Chanukah Menorah; see Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Seder Dinei u-Minhagei Chanukah, p. 718.)


*

Reb Gedaliah would begin chanting “Ha-neiros hallalu…” after lighting the first candle, while the flame was starting to arise by itself.

(Reb Gedaliah’s custom reflects the view of the Shulchan Arukh, Magen Avraham, Elyah Rabbah, et al., and is similar to the custom followed by the communities of Karlin-Stolin, Lelov, and others; however, some begin “Haneiros hallalu” after the first candle is fully lit. Other communities, such as Chabad, Skver-Chernobyl, et al., follow the view of the Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham, et al., to begin after one finishes lighting all the candles; see Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Seder Dinei u-Minhagei Chanukah, p. 718.)


*

After reciting “Haneiros hallalu,” Reb Gedaliah would gaze at the lights in silence for approximately thirty minutes.


*

He would also sing Ma'oz Tzur, and recite Vi-hi Noam and Yoshev be-Seser seven times, followed by Lamenatze'ach be-Neginos, Ana be-Koach, and various zemiros. However, he always spent much time sitting and gazing at the lights in silence.

(The minhag to recite these psalms and zemiros is not unique to Breslov, but is common practice in many Chassidic communities; see Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Seder Dinei u-Minhagei Chanukah, p. 709.)

*

Reb Gedaliah would often learn Likkutei Moharan I, 3 (“Akrukta”) at this time, although he sometimes chose a different Chanukah Torah.

(Other Chanukah lessons include Likkutei Moharan I, 8, 14, 17, 30, 49; II, 2, 7)

*

Shabbos Chanukah was one of the three fixed times during the year when the Chassidim used to come to the Rebbe. In commemoration of this, some Breslover Chassidim today travel to Uman for Shabbos Chanukah. (However, the only time of year when it is obligatory for a Breslover Chassid to come to the Rebbe is Rosh Hashanah.)

*

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender states that on Erev Shabbos Chanukah, the Breslover Chassidim in Uman would daven Minchah with a minyan earlier than usual, prior to lighting the candles.

(Si'ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 255. This is consistent with Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 679:1, 2; also see Mishnah Berurah, ad loc.)

*

However the minhag of Yerushalayim, which is also the minhag of the Breslov community in Tzefat, is to light the Chanukah Menorah and Shabbos candles prior to Minchah, and then go to shul.

(Kitzur SheLaH, Hilchos Chanukah, s.v. “Ve-yesh le-hazhir” states that this is preferable to praying Minchah alone at home in order to maximize the time that the candles will burn. This custom probably reflects practical difficulties of going back and forth to the synagogue twice so close to Shabbos.)

*

In any case, the Chanukah Menorah should be lit before the Shabbos candles, and the candles should burn until at least 30 minutes after tzes ha-kokhavim (about 90 minutes after sundown in America, and somewhat less in Eretz Yisrael).

(Mishnah Berurah on Orach Chaim 679:2)

*


On Shabbos Chanukah, the psalms and zemiros usually recited and sung immediately after lighting the Menorah are sung during the evening meal.

*

Shabbos Chanukah is also the main time that the Tzefat chaburah gets together to rejoice as a community, including sharing a communal Melaveh Malkah. This was the focal point of Chanukah for the talmidim of the Rebbe and Reb Noson, as well.


*

On the eighth night of Chanukah, the yeshivah bochurim share a communal meal, accompanied by singing, divrei Torah, and joyous rikkudim. Rejoicing on “Zos Chanukah” is a minhag of the Baal Shem Tov, which is observed by many Chassidim. However, the Tzefat Breslov kehilllah does not do so as a whole. Rather, Shabbos Chanukah is the focal point of communal celebration.

(Sippurei Baal Shem Tov; also cf. Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Seder Dinei u-Minhagei Chanukah, p. 714)


“Chanukah Gelt”

It is customary to give extra tzedakah during the days of Chanukah. Reb Noson states that this is because during Chanukah, we are engaged in drawing the light of holy altruism into the world, as indicated by the verse “the tzaddik is beneficent and giving” (Psalms 37:21).

(Likkutei Halakhos, Birkhas ha-Mazon 3:16).

*


Reb Gedaliah used to give “Chanukah gelt” to his children on the last night of Chanukah (“Zos Chanukah”).

Nittel Nacht

Like all Chassidim, Breslovers do not study Torah from sundown until Chatzos on “Nittel Nacht.” Ideally, one should go to sleep as early as possible and arise to recite Tikkun Chatzos. However, Reb Gedaliah stated that if one remains awake, it is permissible to read the Rebbe’s Sippurei Ma’asiyos.
(Heard from Rabbi Chaim Man.)


Reb Noson's Yahrtzeit

On the evening of Asarah Be-Teves, Reb Noson's yahrtzeit is commemorated by lighting a 24-hour candle and sharing a communal meal. In some Breslov communities it is customary to read the description of Reb Noson's histalkus (passing from the world) from Alim le-Terufah (Jerusalem: Toras HaNetzach 2000 ed., pp. 913-918). It is also proper to study an additional portion of Reb Noson's teachings on his yahrtzeit, and to give tzedakah in his name according to one’s means.

(In English, see Rabbi Chaim Kramer, Through Fire and Water, Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute, Chapter 48)