A Moment of Exhilaration:
Understanding the Brachos on the Menora
By Rabbi Daniel Travis
After many hours in the air, your flight gets ready for landing. The pilot
announces that as the plane approaches the airport, the Alps will be
visible in the distance. You look out the window, and for a second your
heart freezes as you witness the most breathtaking sight that you have ever
seen: the snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps. While still entranced by
their magnificence, you reach instinctively for a camera but, on second
thought, grab a siddur and recite the blessing of oseh ma'aseh bereishis,
"He who makes the wonders of Creation."
Our Sages understood that instances such as these are few and far between
and therefore obligated us to seize the opportunity afforded us by our
excitement to praise Hashem for the marvels of His Creation. Perhaps there
is no greater inspiration than a miracle that transpired for the entire
Jewish nation. For this reason, when we light the menora on Chanuka we
recite the bracha of she'asa nissim (He who does miracles).
Our airborne friends certainly felt more excitement when they actually
viewed the Alps than when they heard that they would soon be visible. Since
the goal of the bracha of she'asa nissim is to express our awe of Hashem's
works, one would expect that the best time to say this bracha is after
having lit the candles, while still in a state of exhilaration over the
beauty of these lights. Although some opinions concur with this line of
reasoning (Bach according to Meseches Sofrim 20:6), the halacha is that the
bracha should be recited beforehand. Why?
"Before serving Hashem with the body, one should first serve Him with his
soul" (Ritva, Pesachim 7b). At times, we get so involved with the
preparations and fulfillment of a mitzva that we might forget that the goal
of our actions is to bring our neshamos closer to our Creator. A bracha
serves as a gentle reminder that by doing a mitzva we achieve this end.
Therefore our Sages directed us to make the bracha on the menora over
le'asiasan, before lighting the candles (Rema 676:2).
What if one forgets to make the blessings in the midst of all the
excitement over lighting the menora? As long as he has not lit all of the
candles, he may recite the brachos on the remaining ones. If he has
finished with the mitzva, he has lost the opportunity to make the blessing
lehadlik ner Chanuka, but he may say she'asa nissim and shehecheyanu as
long as the lights are still aflame (Mishna Berura 676:4).
After the first candle has been kindled (or, according to some, after all
the candles have been lit), we sing Haneiros Halalu, a piyut about the
Chanuka candles (Mishna Berura 676:8). A similar custom is followed on
Purim; after the reading of the megilla, we say Asher Heinei (Rema 692:1).
What is the significance of these practices?
Both the lighting of the menora and the reading of the megilla are done for
the sake of publicizing, understanding and internalizing Hashem's miracles.
Although the brachos that are said before the lighting of the menora help
us to tune in to what we are about to do, after the brachos and the mitzva
are complete, we still need to contemplate the importance of what we have
done. A short synopsis of why we light the menora, or read the megilla,
drives home this message and allows us to absorb the full impact of these
What's in an 'and'
The poskim argue about the wording of the bracha of she'asa nissim, whether
one should say bizman hazeh, in this time, or ubizman hazeh, and in this
time. At first glance this question might appear to be splitting hairs.
Does it really make such a difference if one recites the blessing with the
word and or without it? When one looks deeper, however, this dispute
touches on the very essence of Chanuka.
"The purpose of overt miracles is to bring us to recognize that the hidden
miracles are also miracles" (Ramban at the end of parashas Bo). When we
say, "Who did miracles for us in these days and at this time," we imply
that we are thanking Hashem for both types of miracles: both the revealed
miracles that took place "in this time," during Chanuka, and the concealed
miracles that transpire daily, "in these days" (Levush 682:1).
Other poskim say that the proper phrasing of the bracha is, "Who did
miracles in these days at this time." According to this wording, the bracha
is referring only to the overt miracles that took place "at this time
during these days," during the period of the Chashmonaim (Taz 682:5).
However, the halacha is that on both Chanuka and Purim we say bizman hazeh,
omitting the word and" (Mishna Berura 676:1).
A Wayfarer's Prayer
"The mitzva of ner Chanuka is to light outside the door of one's house. If
one lives in an upper story, he lights by the window facing the public
domain, and in times of danger it is sufficient to light on the table"
(Shabbos 22a). All of these places have one thing in common; they are
located by one's home. Someone who is traveling and will not have a place
of residence that night cannot light the menora. (Some modes of
transportation such as a train may be suitable to fulfill the mitzva, and a
question should be asked of a Rav).
Even an individual who cannot light the menora still feels a sense of
tremendous inspiration when he sees the candles burning and remembers all
of the miracles that were done for the Jewish people in the times of the
Chashmonaim. At that instant, since the miracle has been publicized to him,
he becomes part of the legacy of Chanuka and is obligated to express his
feelings by reciting the bracha of she'asa nissim (Sedei Chemed Chanuka
9:3). On the first night of Chanuka he should add the blessing of
Shehecheyanu (Shulchan Aruch 676:3).
If the traveler's wife or older child will be lighting the menora for him,
can he still say these blessings? Since he has already fulfilled his
obligation of publicizing the miracle by having the menora lit on his
behalf, our Sages did not see fit to require him to recite a blessing upon
seeing the candles (Ran and Rashba, Shabbos 23a). Therefore, halacha
lemaaseh, one says she'asah nissim and shehecheyanu only if a menora will
not be lit for him (Mishna Berura 676:6).
A single Jew is driving on the highway on a seemingly never-ending stretch
of highway in Midwest America and suddenly remembers that today is Chanuka.
He looks around and realizes that there is not a single menora lit for
hundreds of miles in any direction. Some Rishonim say that he may
nonetheless recite the blessings as on other Yamim Tovim (Meiri, Shabbos,
ibid.; Sheiltos, parashas Vayishlach 26). However, since the poskim are in
doubt regarding this halacha, a bracha should not be said (Sha'arei Tzion
Grabbing the Moment
Every night of Chanuka we sing the piyut Maoz Tzur, which mentions the
principal redemptions throughout the history of the Jewish people. It is
clear why we specify Chanuka, for that is the holiday that we are currently
experiencing, but why do we mention all of the other periods?
We have a similar situation when one comes to a place where a personal
miracle occured. He recites the bracha, "Blessed is He Who made a miracle
for me in this place." If he had a number of miracles transpire, he should
add "in this place and this place ..." (Shulchan Aruch 218:4-5). If the
main bracha is for the miracle that happened at the place that he is
actually looking at, why must one mention all the other miracles that
happened to him?
The same question can be asked with regard to Birkas Hamazon. Why isn't it
enough to thank Hashem for the food and sustenance that He has given us,
which has occasioned our gratitude at this moment? Why must we also express
our gratitude for Torah and Eretz Yisrael as well?
Our Sages understood that when a person reaches a state of inspiration
about one of Hashem's miracles, he should not let this opportunity slip
through his fingers. Rather he should use this valuable moment in order to
thank Hashem for all of the kindness that he has done for him (Rav Yoel
Shwartz as cited in Mizmor LeSoda, p. 40-41). After thanking Him for the
entire gamut of Jewish history, he will see clearly that Hashem's Hand is
the one and only force guiding it, and he will realize that the same is
true about his personal life. This will bring tremendous closeness to his
Through the recitation of the extra tefillos and brachos of Chanuka, may we
all be inspired to recognize Hashem's glory and splendor at every moment
and be motivated to serve Him with a fresh surge of inspiration during the
rest of the year.