The Light of the Tzaddik

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Many laws exist pertaining to the lighting of the menorah
during Chanukah. Let’s focus on just one halachah
(Shabbat 21b): אָמַר
רָבִינָא מִשּׁוּם דְּרַבָּה: זֹאת אוֹמֶרֶת נֵר חֲנוּכָּה מִצְוָה לְהַנִּיחָהּ
בְּתוֹךְ עֲשָׂרָה (Ravina said
in the name of Rabbah, ‘This is to say, it is a mitzvah [requirement] to place the Chanukah light within ten [tefachim of the ground]). Although there
is a debate about this requirement in the Gemara, it is brought down in the Shulchan Aruch as the optimal approach (Orach Chaim 671:6): מניחו למעלה מג’ טפחים ומצוה להניחו למטה מעשרה טפחים ואם הניחו למעלה
מעשרה טפחים יצא אבל אם מניחו למעלה מעשרים אמה לא יצא (One should place the Chanukah light above three tefachim [from the ground], and it is a mitzvah to place it below ten tefachim. If one places it above ten tefachim, he has fulfilled his
requirement, but if one placed it above twenty amot he has not fulfilled his requirement).

On the surface, these laws may seem a bit arbitrary: place
it here, don’t place it there, and certainly don’t place it way up there!
What’s going on? In this article, we will look at the meaning behind placing
the Chanukah light below ten but not below three tefachim.

Let us begin with the three tefachim requirement. Lavud
[לָבוּד] is an important הֲלָכָה לְמשֶׁה מִסִּינַי [halachah
l’Moshe mi’Sinai
], a law handed down to the Jewish People directly from
Moshe exclusively as part of our oral tradition. It states that gaps with a
width less than three tefachim are to
be treated as if they do not exist. The law of lavud typically applies to gaps in structures like a picket fence,
but it also applies to the distance measured from the ground to an object above
the ground. Generally speaking, any object within three tefachim of the ground is considered as if it is not separated from
the ground by such a small gap and therefore, is considered as being one with
the ground. In other words, the halachah
states that the Chanukah light must not be on the ground, i.e. even within
three tefachim of the ground. We
shall return to this point later.

Now, let us focus on the ten tefachim requirement.
What is so special about ten tefachim?
Ten tefachim is the minimum height of a legally significant מחיצה [mechitzah], i.e. a partition. And how do
we know that ten tefachim is the
minimum height of a legally valid mechitzah?
The Torah describes the dimensions of the ark of the covenant (Shemot 25:10): וְעָשׂוּ
אֲרוֹן עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים אַמָּתַיִם וָחֵצִי אׇרְכּוֹ וְאַמָּה וָחֵצִי רׇחְבּוֹ
וְאַמָּה וָחֵצִי קֹמָתוֹ (And
make the ark [aron] out of acacia
wood: two and a half amot long, one
and a half amot wide, and one and a
half amot high). And since the amah used for building the vessels of
the Mishkan had a length of six tefachim,
we can calculate that the aron itself
was nine tefachim high. But we have
to account for the height of the lid which wasn’t included in the measurement
mentioned in the verse. Without going into the details, the Gemara in Succah 5b concludes that even though the
Torah did not explicitly state the height of the lid, it was one tefach thick. Therefore, the aron was ten tefachim high. But what does this have to do with a mechitzah?

We know that when the Shechinah
Divine Presence] descended and Hashem communicated directly with Moshe from
within the partition, it rested upon the aron
between the two keruvim (see Shemot 40:34-35). As a result, the Shechinah never descended below the
height of ten tefachim, as the Gemara explicitly states (Succah 5a): וְתַנְיָא
רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר מֵעוֹלָם לֹא יָרְדָה שְׁכִינָה לְמַטָּה (And it was taught in a Baraita: R’ Yose
says, ‘The Shechinah has never
descended below [into the exclusive domain of mankind, i.e. below ten tefachim]). This teaches us that a
separate domain begins at the height of ten tefachim
from the ground, a domain where the Divine Presence can be experienced. Below
ten tefachim, however, is the exclusive domain of mankind, a place devoid of
Divine light. Thus, ten tefachim
became the minimum height of a legally significant mechitzah in all areas of halachah.

The Chanukah light, the light of the holy menorah which
burned miraculously for eight days, represents the Shechinah—specifically, the Divine light of Torah, emanating down to
us in this earthly realm from the upper worlds. But if the Shechinah has never descended below ten tefachim, how can
we place the Chanukah light below ten tefachim?
It doesn’t seem to make much sense.

Zecharyah ha-Navi was given a vision about a golden menorah.
Relating to these words (Zecharyah 4:2): וְשִׁבְעָה
נֵרֹתֶיהָ עָלֶיהָ שִׁבְעָה וְשִׁבְעָה מוּצָקוֹת לַנֵּרוֹת (…and seven lamps upon it, seven, and seven pipes to the
lamps…), Rashi provides us with a beautiful chiddush: והמוצקות והנרות ארבעים ותשע היו רמז לאור שלעתיד לבא אור החמה יהיה
שבעתים כאור של שבעת ימים ארבעים ותשע על אור של יום בראשית (And the pipes and the lamps are 49, an allusion to the light
that will be in the future—the light of the sun will be sevenfold, like the
light of the seven days [of creation], 49 times the light of a day of
creation). Therefore, each of the seven lamps is actually composed of seven
lamps, making 49 lamps (or lights) in total, pointing us back to the hidden
light of creation yet to be revealed in the Messianic Age, as stated explicitly
in Likutei Moharan 8:8: הֵם מ"ט אוֹרוֹת
שֶׁהוּא אוֹר הַגָּנוּז לֶעָתִיד
(There are 49 lights: it is the hidden light [ohr ha-ganuz] for the

It is explained in Likutei Halachot (Orach Chaim
Chanukah 2:2
): גַּם נֵר חֲנֻכָּה מְרַמֵּז עַל הָרוּחַ
חַיִּים שֶׁל הַצַּדִּיק שֶׁעַל-יְדֵי זֶה מִתְגַּבְּרִין כְּנֶגְדָּם אִם הוּא
צַדִּיק גָּמוּר (The Chanukah
light also alludes to the breath of life of the Tzaddik, through which
we can defeat them [the forces of evil], if he is a complete Tzaddik).
The only way to defeat the forces of evil in this world, whose domain is “below
ten tefachim”, where the Shechinah never descends, is through the
Tzaddik, who is the manifestation of Moshe Rabbeinu in each generation
(as was, for example, Zerubavel in the days of Zecharyah and Mattityahu the kohen
in the days of the Chashmonaim). We read further (O.C. Chanukah
): וְאִי אֶפְשָׁר לַעֲמֹד כְּנֶגְדָּם כִּי אִם
עַל-יְדֵי כֹּחַ הַצַּדִּיק כַּנַּ"ל וְזֶה בְּחִינַת נֵר חֲנֻכָּה כִּי
הַצַּדִּיק נִקְרָא אוֹר כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב אִמְרוּ צַדִּיק כִּי טוֹב וְאֵין טוֹב
אֶלָּא אוֹר כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב וַיַּרְא אֱלֹקִים אֶת הָאוֹר כִּי טוֹב כִּי זֶה
הַצַּדִּיק הוּא טוֹב גָּמוּר כִּי הִפְרִישׁ הָרַע לְגַמְרֵי וְנִשְׁאָר כֻּלּוֹ
טוֹב וְעַל-כֵּן נִקְרָא טוֹב דְּהַיְנוּ אוֹר כַּנַּ"ל (It is impossible to stand up against them except through the
power of the Tzaddik, and this alludes to the Chanukah light because the
Tzaddik is called ‘light’, as it is written [Yeshayah 3:10]:
‘Tell the Tzaddik that he is good.’ And there is no ‘good’ except
‘light’, as it is written [Bereshit 1:4]: ‘And G‑d saw the light that it
is good’, for the Tzaddik is completely good because he separated the
evil completely and he remains, completely good; therefore, he is called
‘good’, i.e. ‘light’).

We now can understand the astonishing truth why we should
place the Chanukah light below ten tefachim (O.C. Chanukah 2:1): וְזֶה בְּחִינַת נֵר חֲנֻכָּה שֶׁאָנוּ מַמְשִׁיכִין
וּמְקַבְּלִין כֹּחַ הַצַּדִּיק שֶׁנִּקְרָא אוֹר… עַל-יְדֵי זֶה אָנוּ
יְכוֹלִין לַעֲמֹד כְּנֶגֶד מַלְכוּת הָרְשָׁעָה כַּנַּ"ל כִּי אִי אֶפְשָׁר
לַעֲמֹד כְּנֶגְדָּם כִּי אִם עַל-יְדֵי בְּחִינַת כֻּלּוֹ טוֹב בְּחִינַת צַדִּיק
גָּמוּר כַּנַּ"ל כִּי צְרִיכִין לֵירֵד לְתוֹךְ הָרַע שֶׁלָּהֶם לְשַׁבְּרוֹ
וּלְהַשְׁפִּילוֹ כַּנַּ"ל. וְזֶה בְּחִינַת מִצְוַת נֵר חֲנֻכָּה לְמַטָּה
מֵעֲשָׂרָה טְפָחִים…כִּי עִקַּר אֲחִיזַת הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא הוּא לְמַטָּה
מִיּוּד כִּי מֵעוֹלָם לֹא יָרְדָה שְׁכִינָה לְמַטָּה מֵעֲשָׂרָה (This corresponds to the Chanukah light,
that we must draw down and receive the power of the Tzaddik that is
called ‘light’…through this we can stand up against the kingdom of the wicked,
for it is impossible to stand against them except through the aspect of
‘completely good’, in the aspect of the complete Tzaddik, for we must
descend to the midst of the evil to break it and to subdue it. And this
corresponds to the mitzvah of the Chanukah light being below ten tefachim…for
the essence of the power of the Sitra Achra is below ten, for the Shechinah
has never descended below ten tefachim).

To summarize, the Chanukah light symbolizes the Tzaddik—specifically,
his Torah, his breath. He alone is the one capable of descending below ten tefachim
in order to illuminate the dark places of the world, breaking the power of the
evil forces that rule there, and rescuing those of us who descended and became
imprisoned there.

This explains why the Chanukah light should be placed
between three and ten tefachim, a space that can be divided neatly into
seven one-tefach zones. The Tzaddik is able to descend through
these seven levels and rise again, as it is written (Mishlei 24:16): כִּי שֶׁבַע יִפּוֹל צַדִּיק וָקָם וּרְשָׁעִים יִכָּשְׁלוּ
בְרָעָה (The Tzaddik
falls seven and rises, but the wicked stumble in evil). Most have understood
this verse as praise to the resilience of a righteous man, i.e. that he is able
to fall many times and yet, able to keep getting up each time. We find two
issues with this interpretation. First, he can’t be much of a tzaddik if
he keeps falling over and over again. It is certainly a good character trait to
keep getting up when one falls, but that quality is more a characteristic of a baal
than a complete tzaddik. Second, the verse doesn’t say
anything about ‘seven times’; it just says ‘seven’. The question we should ask
is: To which ‘seven’ is the verse referring? In light of what we have learned
above, they correspond to the seven levels, i.e. the seven names, of hell that
we can, G‑d forbid, descend into through our sins, as stated in the Gemara (Eruvin
): אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן לֵוִי: שִׁבְעָה
שֵׁמוֹת יֵשׁ לְגֵיהִנָּם וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: שְׁאוֹל וַאֲבַדּוֹן וּבְאֵר שַׁחַת
וּבוֹר שָׁאוֹן וְטִיט הַיָּוֵן וְצַלְמָוֶת וְאֶרֶץ הַתַּחְתִּית (R’ Yehoshua ben Levi said, Gehinnom has
seven names, and they are: grave, annihilation, well of destruction, pit of
turbulent water, muddy clay, shadow of death, and the underworld). Each of the
seven tefachim between ten and three correspond to one of the names of
hell ruled over by the forces of the Sitra Achra. These are the seven
realms that the Tzaddik descends into in order to defeat those powers
that hold sway there. And the seven levels of hell correspond to the seven
levels of heaven into which he ascends (with us) after having rescued us (Chagigah
): רֵישׁ לָקִישׁ אָמַר: שִׁבְעָה וְאֵלּוּ הֵן
וִילוֹן רָקִיעַ שְׁחָקִים זְבוּל מָעוֹן מָכוֹן עֲרָבוֹת (Reish Lakish said there are seven: curtain, firmament,
heights, abode, habitation, dwelling place and skies). The names for hell and
for heaven are not really suitable for translation: we have suggested some here
only for the sake of the English reader. (Those who wish to study further these
topics of the seven levels of hell and the seven levels of heaven are
encouraged to do so, but we won’t go into them here since they are not the
focus of this article.)

To summarize, the unique Tzaddik of each generation
who corresponds to Moshe Rabbeinu, the one in whom the Shechinah dwells
(see Rashi to Shemot 33:7, Midrash Tanchuma Ki Tisa 27:4, and Dodi
Yarad le’Gano
which concludes Tikkun Leah for more proof of this
idea), descends through the seven levels of hell (represented by the Chanukah
light being placed optimally between ten and three tefachim, only to
ascend again, but this time with those once trapped there. So why can’t we
place the Chanukah light on the ground? Because that is the ultimate place for
the wicked, and sadly, no amount of supernal light of Torah does them any good,
as it is written (Tehillim 147:6): מְעוֹדֵד
עֲנָוִים יְיָ מַשְׁפִּיל רְשָׁעִים עֲדֵי־אָרֶץ (Hashem encourages the humble and lowers the wicked to the

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