Monday, December 15, 2008

Chanukah 2008 – How to create a unified nation

Here’s a free dvar torah for your Chanukah party:

I’m supposed to be a good guy, and so I’m supposed to make sure that you don’t think ill of me – this is the mandate of והייתם נקיים מה' ומישראל, “You shall be innocent in the eyes of Gd and Israel.”

But you’re supposed to be a good guy/girl, and so you’re supposed to assume the best about me – this is the mandate of הוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות, Judge everyone favorably.

The two obligations are contradictory; either I should be able to do what I want and rely on you assuming the best about me, or I should be restricted to behavior which is clearly good and you should be able to assume that what you see is what you get!

This issue comes up on Chanukah, regarding the halachah of a home with multiple entrances facing different directions.

Traditionally, Jews have lit the menorah at the site where the public entered their home/yard. Therefore, the gemara teaches – and it is brought in Shulchan Aruch – that one who has multiple entrances facing different directions should light at each one, lest passersby only see a menorah-less entrance and think he didn’t light the menorah.*

The question is the same: Why don’t we tell the on-looker to assume the best about me? Why do I need to worry about his sinful assumption of wrongdoing?

Rav Menashe Klein, in his Mishneh Halachos (5:95) points to the fact that the gemara (Yerushalmi Shekalim 3:2, if I remember correctly), in discussing the law of avoiding suspicion, quotes an additional pasuk as the basis for requiring me to act in clearly positive ways: ומצא חן ושכל טוב בעיני אלקים ואדם, You shall find favor in the eyes of Gd and Man.

This is a more proactive commandment, summoning the Jew to behavior which will earn him credit in the eyes of others, rather than require them to seek out justifications for his behavior. We are obligated to be our best selves in our own eyes, in the Eyes of Gd, and in the eyes of our fellow Jews.

To me, this is a beautiful idea, for it is only upon the basis of a proactive philosophy that we will create a truly unified people.

[You can also fill in here with a nice piece on the lights of the menorah each being unique, but pointing toward the center light, per the commentaries to Bamidbar 8:2.]

*Note: Those of us who live in cold/windy climates, as well as those of us who live in areas where a Jew lighting a menorah is in danger, light indoors. Therefore, the Shulchan Aruch says that in our times, anyone who sees a menorah-less side of the house will just assume we lit inside, and there is no obligation to light in two different spots.


  1. i am very very confused...
    so someone should assume the best of me, which should require me to light one menorah, but i want to "be good" in the eyes of Hashem, so i should light two (with multiple entrances) that right? as i said, i am very very confused...

  2. Hi Shorty,

    Close - It's that I should be good in the eyes of 'Israel' and so I should light at multiple entrances. This way, you won't suspect me of wrongdoing.

    Does that help?

  3. but then doesn't that go against they "think best of me" halacha?

  4. Yes - And that's exactly what was bothering me, and what led to this dvar torah. The resolution I see, and that I try to articulate here, is that despite others' obligation to assume the best of us, we are required to act in a way that is clearly good, in order to establish a society in which all think well of others, without requiring them to come up with rationalizations for our behavior.