Increasing The Amount of Candles Lit on Chanukah
Every holiday possesses "a body," the laws and customs associated
with its observance, and "a soul," the breath of life infused by
the spiritual message the holiday conveys.
Frequently, we associate the Rebbe with the soul of the holidays,
for he would impart energy and vitality to their observance by
sharing their spiritual meaning with us. He would, however, also
provide us with an analysis of their laws and practices that was
permeated by unique insight.
It is this dimension which is highlighted in the essay to follow.
May the study of the Rebbe's teachings lead to the age when we
will again celebrate holidays with him, in body as well as in
soul, in the near future with the coming of the Redemption, and
the fulfillment of the prophecy, (Yeshayahu 26:19) "And those who
repose in the dust will arise and sing."
Sichos In English
25 Kislev, 5755
What Motivates the Mehadrin Min HaMehadrin?
Our Sages taught: The mitzvah of Chanukah [entails lighting]
one candle [each night] for a person and his household.
Mehadrin (those who perform the mitzvah in a conscientious and
splendid manner) [light] one candle [each night] for every member
of the household.
[What is the practice of the] mehadrin min hamehadrin (those
whose performance of the mitzvah is considered as conscientious
and splendid even when compared to the mehadrin)?
The School of Shammai maintain that on the first night, eight
candles should be lit, and [each night] the number should be
The School of Hillel maintain that on the first night, one candle
should be lit, and [each] night the number should be increased...
With regard to [the rationale motivating the opinions of
the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel], there is a
difference of opinion among two Amoraim.... One states that the
rationale of the School of Shammai focuses on the days which are
yet to be celebrated, while the School of Hillel focuses on the
days which have already been celebrated.
The other states that the School of Shammai [draws a] parallel to
the bulls offered on the holiday of Sukkos [which are reduced in
number each day], while the School of Hillel's rationale follows
the maxim: "One should always ascend with regard to holy matters
and not descend." 
The Aramaic term for the expression translated as, "There is
a difference of opinion among two Amoraim...," `plugu bah', 
implies that the disagreement between the two Sages concerns not
only a point of theory, the rationale motivating the different
perspectives of the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel,
but also a difference in practice.
Indeed, we find that certain authorities  associate the
difference of opinion mentioned in the Talmud, with a difference
of opinion between the Rambam and Tosafos regarding the amount of
candles lit by those who are mehadrin min hamehadrin.
Tosafos  maintains that the mehadrin min hamehadrin light only
one additional candle each night. They do not follow the practice
of the mehadrin who add a separate candle for every member of the
The Rambam, by contrast, maintains  that every night the
mehadrin min hamehadrin add a new candle for every member of
It is possible to explain that Tosafos considers the first
opinion of primary importance. Accordingly, the amount of candles
lit must reflect the amount of days in the holiday. If every
member of the household would light a new candle, confusion might
ensue, because an onlooker would not be able to determine how
many days of the festival had passed.  To forewarn the
possibility of such a quandary arising, a new light is not
added every night for each member of the household.
The Rambam, by contrast, places greater emphasis on the
principle: "One should always ascend with regard to holy
matters...." Accordingly, every night, each member of the
household should follow that principle and increase the amount
of lights he kindles.
In Practice, As Well As In Theory
In the Ashkenazic community, the common custom, as recorded by
the Ramah,  is to follow the Rambam's view.
It is possible to explain, however, that this determination does
not reflect a preference for either of the perspectives mentioned
above.  Even according to the custom which the Ramah mentions,
there are several differences in practice resulting from the
views of the two Amoraim.
To cite an example:
If for whatever reason, on the second night of Chanukah, a person
kindled only one candle.
According to the opinion that the candles commemorate the number
of nights celebrated, on the third night, he should light three
According to the opinion that the motivating principle is, "One
should always ascend...," one might presume that on the third
night, it is sufficient to light just two candles, for this also
marks an increase of light.
A second possibility:
A person who does not have enough oil or candles to light more
than six lights on the eighth night of Chanukah. He cannot kindle
as many lights as required. Indeed, he cannot even kindle as many
lights as he did the previous night. Therefore, according to the
opinion that the motivating principle is, "One should always
ascend...," there is reason to presume that he should kindle only
one light. For he is unable to adhere to this principle at all.
Not only can he not add light, he is actually forced to reduce
the number of lights he kindles. Therefore, it would appear that
it is appropriate for him to light only one candle, observing the
mitzvah according to the minimum requirement.
According to the opinion which focuses on the number of nights
of the holiday which were celebrated, by contrast, each night
possesses a certain degree of importance. Therefore, even though
one is unable to light the full number of candles that the
conscientious commitment of mehadrin min hamehadrin would
require, it is preferable to light the maximum number of candles
one can, and thus accentuate the importance of more of the days
of the holiday.
An Abstract Distinction
When viewing the difference of opinion between the two amoraim
in the abstract, the variance between their views can be seen as
a reflection of a question of a greater scope:
Is the custom of the mehadrin min hamehadrin related to Chanukah
per se, or is it a reflection of a general thrust of refinement
relevant to our Divine service as a whole?
Or to use terminology prevalent in yeshivah circles, is it a
function of the cheftza (the article, in this instance, the days
of Chanukah) or the gavra ( the person observing the mitzvah)?
According to the opinion which explains that the difference of
opinion between the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel
revolves upon "on the days which are yet to be - or which have
already been - celebrated," it is the days of the holiday (the
cheftza) which warrant the addition (or subtraction) of lights.
As such, all the candles lit each night are of equal status.
There is no differences between the candles lit to mark the
additional nights, and those lit to fulfill the fundamental
requirement of the mitzvah.
According to the opinion that the difference between the two
schools relates to the number of bulls offered on the holiday
of Sukkos or the maxim, "One should always ascend with regard
to holy matters...," by contrast, there is no direct connection
between the need to add (or subtract) candles and the holiday of
Adding the candles is an obligation incumbent on the person
(gavra) which reflects a comprehensive pattern,  applicable
in other aspects of observance as well. 
For that reason, the additional candles do not have the same
status as the one candle required to fulfill one's obligation.
Indeed, our Rabbis  refer to them as reshus, "optional."
In the Personal Sphere
In the present era, the halachah follows the School of Hillel,
and thus each night of Chanukah is marked by an increase in
And as the Ramah writes, it is the common custom for everyone
to observe this mitzvah on the level of mehadrin min hamehadrin.
These concepts should inspire our Divine service throughout the
year to come. We must constantly seek to increase light, and we
should aspire to observe all the mitzvos on the level of mehadrin
This, in turn, will motivate G-d to respond in kind, increasing
the revelation of G-dly light within the world, and leading to
the age of consummate revelation when we will again kindle the
Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash, celebrating our Redemption.
Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 207ff
- (Back to text) Shabbos 21b.
- (Back to text) Significantly, in the tractate Sofrim 20:5, and in the
Sheiltos d'Rav Achai Gaon (Sheilta 26) one of the
earliest post-Talmudic texts of Jewish law, the
expression plugu bah does not appear. Similarly, the two
opinions are not quoted as contradictory in the halachic
works of Rabbeinu Yitzchak Alfasi and Rabbeinu Asher.
- (Back to text) See HaNosain Imri Shefer as quoted by the Birchei Yosef,
the Pri Chadash, and the Gra, in their glosses to
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 671:1.
- (Back to text) Shabbos, loc. cit., entry vihamehadrin.
- (Back to text) Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Chanukah 4:1-2.
- (Back to text) E.g., if four candles were lit in a household, it would
be unclear whether one person was lighting four candles
because it was the fourth night of the holiday, or two
people were lighting two candles, because it was the
second night of the holiday.
- (Back to text) Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit.:2.
- (Back to text) At present, in the Ashkenazic community, the custom is to
light the Chanukah candles inside the home, and not in
the public domain, as was the custom in the Talmudic era.
The concept of pirsumei nisa, publicizing the Chanukah
miracle, thus applies primarily to the members of the
household, and not to the passersby in the public domain.
Accordingly, since the members of the household are aware
of the number of people who lit candles, the number of
candles kindled makes known the number of nights the
festival has been celebrated (Encyclopedia Talmudis,
- (Back to text) Perhaps this serves as an explanation for the details
Rashi adds in his commentary to Shabbos, loc. cit. Rashi
states: " 'the bulls offered on the holiday of Sukkos':
which are progressively reduced as stated in the passage
concerning the sacrifices in Parshas Pinchas," and " 'One
should always ascend...': This is derived from a verse in
the tractate Menachos, in the chapter Shtei HaLechem."
Rashi cites these sources to indicate that the emphasis
is on comprehensive Torah principles, and not on concepts
relevant to Chanukah alone.
- (Back to text) In this context, one can note the distinction between the
terms mehadrin min hamehadrin used in this context, and
an expression frequently used in other contexts, mitzvah
min hamuvchar, the observance of a mitzvah in a most
preferred manner possible. Mehadrin min hamehadrin refers
to the conscientious and splendid manner in which the
person observes a mitzvah. Mitzvah min hamuvchar, by
contrast, places the emphasis on the mitzvah, and not on
the person observing it.
- (Back to text) Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 674:1.