The measure of heroism and the measure of kindness || Yuval Linden
בינה בפייסבוק בינה באינסטגרם צרו קשר עם בינה במייל

The measure of heroism and the measure of kindness || Yuval Linden

The measure of heroism and the measure of kindness

Yuval Linden

The religious members of my IDF unit claim (unfairly, in my opinion!) that I enjoy trolling them when I talk about BINA’s Secular Yeshiva, about the woman who is the head of the yeshiva, Ayala Dekel, or just about the concepts of Israeli Judaism that I embrace and try to promote in our society.

That is why they were not surprised when I suggested that this year we light the Hanukkah candles according to the custom of Beit Shamai, rather than Beit Hillel.

In the Shabbat Tractate of the Babylonian Talmud it is said:

Beit Shamai says: On the first night we light eight and from then on – it gets smaller and smaller.

And Beit Hillel says: On the first night we one light one, and from then on it adds and goes on.

And so Beit Hillel is like, “We know that this is how it is done and this is how we do it every year – starting with one candle and ending with eight. On the other hand, Beit Shammai holds that we should start with a full hanukkiah and each night reduce it until the holiday ends with one candle.

“But why go with Beit Shamai?” one of the guys asked me.

Beyond the established pattern of Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel holding opposite opinions, what was the thinking behind each of their approaches?

Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter, the second Rebbe in the Gor Hassidic dynasty, wrote a beautiful explanation about 150 years ago in his famous book ‘Sfat Emet – Language of Truth’. He wrote that a candle has two functions – to illuminate and to burn. There is the light of the candle that spreads everywhere and there is the fire that burns and consumes the candle.

Beit Shammai believed that we should reduce the evil in the world until it disappears. Beit Hillel believed that the objective is to add light, and that in this process, we increase enthusiasm for the light.

The Beit Hillel approach is definitely the dominant approach in our culture and view – the main thing is to add light. Every day, we add more and more light to the world until, on the eighth day of Hanukkah, from every window the light and warmth of the Hanukkah candles beams out into the world.

The Beit Shamai approach holds that the candle wax (originally olive oil) symbolizes the evil that exists in the world. On the first day of Hanukkah, the world is full of these candles, but the fire burns away the evil, day after day, as we burn down the candles until a single candle remains on the last day. In Beit Shamai’s method we celebrate the victory of fire over evil.

So why this year do I say we should light according to the custom of Beit Shamai?

Because there is great evil in the world. We saw it in all its horror on October 7th. We hear it from the mouths of the hostages and from their families in the testimonies they gave when they returned. Evil is here and is more present than it has been throughout the entire history of our young country.

What my IDF unit is doing day after day, is just a part of the huge war machine that goes from neighborhood to neighborhood, house by house, and tunnel after tunnel performing the important and terrible task of burning the evil out. To free the Gaza Strip from Hamas control, to end the threatening presence of a radical Islamic terrorist organization over an entire country and the residents of the Western Negev, in particular.

It was difficult for some of the soldiers to accept my perspective because adding light is what many of us do in our lives when we don’t wear uniforms – we are educators, artists, hi-tech leaders, business owners, and many other occupations rooted in creating more light in the world.

Ben Ish Chai, head of the Babylonian exile about two hundred years ago, said that regarding the Hanukkah candles, Beit Hillel represents the measure of God’s kindness in the world while Beit Shamai is the measure of heroism.

We all need grace, we all need light. These attributes are missing in the world for many of us now.

But now is the time for heroism – the uncompromising measure of justice that is required to burn this evil from our lives.

Now, to remind you, this is all a retelling of the discussion (some would say lively debate) that I had with my army unit. Well, we ended the discussion with the decision that we would light the two menoras side-by-side – the Beit Hillel menorah will remind us of our natural tendency to be kind and add light (and along the way it will also fulfill the requirement halachic friends with the accepted “Halacha according to Beit Hillel”) and alongside it will be the Beit Shamai menorah to signify that we are not in a normal year – this is a year of heroism and a year of banishing evil.

It’s hard to say “happy holidays” this year, yet we wish for all of us to light candles together, to think of those heroes who are doing everything to burn down the evil and return the hostages home to their families, soon.

Amen.

Yuval Linden, Deputy Director, BINA

Yuval has been serving for the past two months in army reserves with his army unit in southern Israel.

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