Chanukah 2; Girls Just Wanna Have… Simchas HaChag The general rule is that women are exempt from fulfilling positive mitzvos which are time-bound.[1] For example, women do not need to shake a lulav, sit in a sukkah, wear tzitzis or tefillin. And this rule of exemption applies to both Torah and Rabbinic mitzvos.[2] However, when it comes to lighting Chanukah candles, women are obligated to fulfil this mitzvah, despite it being a positive time-bound mitzvah. Why? For, as the gemarra says,[3] there is a concept called ‘af hein hayu be’oso ha’nes,’ which means that since women were part of the miracle (to be explained later), they are obligated to do any mitzvos which pertain to the miracle. It is for this same reason that women are obligated to hear the Megillah on Purim

and drink the four cups on Pesach, despite them being positive time-bound mitzvos; because our rule of ‘they were also involved in the miracle’ also applies there.[4]
What is the nature of this rule of af hein hayu be’oso ha’nes (from now on ‘af hein’ to keep this short); how exactly does it work to obligate women in a time-bound positive mitzvah? The key to understanding the nature of this halacha is the dispute cited by the Gra and Mishna Brura[5] as to whether slaves are obligated to hear the Megillah on Purim; the Tur[6] holds that slaves are obligated, whilst the Rambam[7] holds that they are not. What is their dispute based on? The Brisker Rav[8] reveals two different ways to understand this obligating of women via af hein. Is the obligation under af hein a one-stage or a two-stage process ? The two-stage process understanding is that the normal rules say that women should be exempt here, but af hein then says that despite the exemption under the normal rules (which still applies), there is a new obligation called af hein.
Thus, the two stages are firstly an exemption under the normal rules, and then a new obligation under af hein. Alternatively, af hein could be a one-stage process. Af hein could be telling us not to apply the normal rules of exemption in the first place, so women become like men in this respect and were never exempt from these time-bound positive mitzvos. Another way of saying these two different understandings of af hein would be: is af hein a new obligation or merely removes the exemption. The Brisker Rav wants to say further that the dispute between the Rambam and Tur is based on these two understandings. For when it comes to the exemptions of time-bound positive mitzvos, slaves are the same as women in this respect; they have whatever time-bound positive mitzvah exemption that women have.

Therefore, if af hein for women is a one-stage process that tells us not to apply the time-bound exemptions in the first place, then these exemptions will not apply to slaves either - and so the result is that slaves will be obligated in these mitzvos like Chanukah candles and Megillah.[9] This is what the Tur holds. But if af hein is a two-stage process; which acts after the normal time-bound exemptions apply to create its own new obligation, then slaves will be exempt from the mitzvah of Megillah, etc. - for women did have the exemption for the mitzvah being time-bound (which slaves share) and have a new obligation of af hein, which slaves do not have. Clever, eh? There are several other practical differences which emerge from these astute understandings of the Brisker Rav. The first is whether women can fulfil these mitzvos for a man (be motzi a man); e.g. can a woman read the Megillah for a man (assuming she does not sing it to avoid any women singing issues)? The normal rule is that in order for someone to be motzi someone else, the two have to have the same level of obligation. Thus, a child who is under barmitzvah cannot recite birkas hamazon for me (me fulfilling my obligation via listening to his reading), for the child only has a Rabbinic obligation here, whilst I (can) have a Torah obligation (depending on my satiation). So what about a woman being motzi a man in Megillah?

Again, it depends on our two understandings. If af hein is a one-stage process, then for sure a woman can be motzi a man, for they are put at the exact same standing as men (af hein prevented the application of their time-bound exemption). But if it is a two-stage process, then perhaps a woman’s obligation under af hein might not be strong enough relative to a man’s obligation here to be motzi a man. The issue of a woman being motzi a man here is a dispute between Rashi and Tosafos;[10] and should be dependent on these two sides of the Brisker Rav, as we have explained. Indeed, it is also possible that these two understandings of af hein are behind another dispute in this halacha. There is an important dispute as to what af hein actually means. Tosafos[11] says it means that women also experienced the miracle; they were also part of the decree to be killed on Purim and the decrees against them on Chanukah. The Rashbam,[12] however, goes further. He cites that af hein means not that the women experienced the miracle, but means that the women brought about the miracle; it was in the merit of the righteous women that we were redeemed on Pesach, Esther caused the salvation at Purim, and Yehudis on Chanukah.[13] Why would the Rashbam need to go so far in requiring af hein to be that women caused the miracle; why is it not enough of a reason to obligate women based on the fact that they experienced the miracle and should therefore be obligated to commemorate it? Perhaps because the Rashbam held that af hein is a two-stage process which creates its own, new obligation, he held that af hein needed to ‘do more’ in order to obligate women that just say that women experienced the miracle (ponder that one). Either way, we have briefly gone into the nuances of the workings of af hein hayu be’oso ha’nes via this delightful chakira of the Brisker Rav, and have seen two (and perhaps three) practical outgrowths of these two understandings. We shall end with a few words about Chanukah itself. Chanukah is a time of reinvigoration, vitality, and a chance to bring some freshness into one’s religious life and relationship with HaShem. Chanukah is all about pushing away the darkness (which represents evil[14] and so a spiritual downwards spiral); it is during Chanukah that the days begin to get longer again and the nights (darkness) shorter. And the candles during Chanukah are a physical manifestation and metaphor of this removal of the darkness. Moreover, fire itself (think Chanukah candles) represents passion, enthusiasm, action and vitality (a fire, unlike water, does not stay in one place).
Indeed, Chanukah tells us to stop performing our mitzvos out of habit and rote. The gemarra[15] tells us that the Chanukah candles should burn until the time when the feet of people [‘regel’] are no longer around in the marketplace. Now, this word ‘regel’ (the foot) can also be read as being from the word hergel (habit); something done without thought. [It is no coincidence that the foot is used to refer to an action without thought, for just as an action without thought is ‘dead;’ it has no vitality, so too is the foot the furthest limb from the brain, and it is covered by dead skin at its sole]. The way the chassidim learn this gemarra is: how big an impact should the Chanukah candles burn internally for; until habit is removed - I.e. until we stop performing our mitzvos out of habit and go back to the fire of enthusiasm and vitality of spirituality that we can be.

Have a great Chanukah!


[1] See gemarra Kiddushin 33b-35a. There are exceptions, where the Torah goes out of its way to obligate women in a positive time-bound mitzvah; like kiddush on Shabbos. [2] See Tosafos Pesachim 108b ‘she’af’ [3] Gemarra Shabbos 23a [4] See Rashi and Rashbam 108b ‘she’af’ [5] Orach Chaim 699:1 (in Mishna Brura se’if katan 2) [6] Tur Orach Chaim 699:1 [7] Rambam hilchos Megillah 1:1 [8] Griz Arachin 3a [9] There is room to argue on this presumption though; the reason women do not have the time-bound exemption here is because they have af hein, which slaves do not necessarily have. Thus, slaves should have their time-bound exemption express itself. The Brisker Rav seems to be learning that there are not two different heads of time-bound exemptions; one for women and one for slaves. Rather there is one head; the exemption for women, and slaves will just constantly copy and take on whatever exemption women have. [10] Rashi and Tosafos Arachin 3a; quoted in the Tur Orach Chaim 699:2 [11] Tosafos Pesachim 108b ‘hayu’ [12] Rashbam Pesachim 108b ‘she’af.’ Rashi says different things in different places. [13] Yehudis managed to kill the ruling Greek tyrant by making him eat food which put him to sleep and then killed him. [14] See Moreh Nevuchim chelek gimmel perek 10 [15] Gemarra Shabbos 21b

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