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In the talmud, Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai debate the procedure for lighting the Hanukkah candles. Beit Shammai argues that we should light eight candles the first night, decreasing to one candle on the final night. From their perspective, the first day of the holiday is most joyous, and thus our celebration that night is the greatest. With that in mind, we light all eight on the first night, counting down to the final night.
Indeed, Beit Shammai’s opinion can call on the Torah for support. In Numbers, chapter 29, we read of the sacrifices offered on each day of Sukkot. Specifically, the number of bulls sacrificed on the first day of Sukkot is 13, and that number decreases by one every subsequent day of the holiday. Thus, Beit Shammai can find grounding for his argument in the Torah’s celebration of the holiday of Sukkot.
Beit Hillel, on the other hand, argues that we should begin Hanukkah by lighting one candle and increasing the number each day until we reach eight on the final night. Their argument is that each successive day builds its joy on the previous day, culminating on the eighth and final night. For them, our joy increases as the celebration continues. As we know from our practice today, the talmud sides with Beit Hillel.
As I was reflecting on Hanukkah in the context of 2020, it might seem like our holiday would most mirror Beit Shammai’s attitude: this year has been difficult and continues to be challenging. Indeed, we often feel that each day is more trying than the one before. Yet, this year, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, we would be wise to adopt Beit Hillel’s mindset. Each day is a new day to be grateful — for our lives, for the lives of our family and friends, and for each other. Each day brings us closer to a sunnier tomorrow, and we can add our hopefulness of today to that of our gratitude from yesterday.
In doing so, it is my hope and prayer that, just like our Hanukkah celebration increases our joy throughout the holiday, each new day of ours continues to shine a little brighter.