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The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Halakha: A Weekly Shiur In Halakhic Topics
Yeshivat Har Etzion


 

 

Shiur #16: Regarding a blind person's

obligation in mitzvot

(Part III)

 

HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein

 

 

[We ended the last installment of this shiur, with a discussion of a blind person's obligation to light from the position of the Sages.  We surveyed various views of the Rishonim as to the relationship between seeing and lighting Chanuka candles.  We now continue this discussion.]

 

            When we come to discuss a blind person's obligation to light Chanuka candles in light of the talmudic passages and the Rishonim, it seems that according to the Rashba who defines seeing the candles as an alternative – albeit inferior, but better than nothing – to lighting them, there is no reason to exempt a blind person because of his inability to see. If he is capable of fulfilling the mitzva at the highest level, what difference should it make that he is excluded from the lower level? If we view seeing the Chanuka candles, as I understand is the position of the Manhig, as an additional obligation over and beyond the lighting, but entirely separate from it – and even if we assume that ideally speaking the two obligations should be combined – there is still no reason to exempt a blind person, since he is in no way deficient with respect to the primary element of the mitzva, i.e., the lighting. Surely we see that even with respect to mitzvot that have several components which lekhatchila are supposed to be joined, even by Torah law, nevertheless the various components do not hinder each other. For example, lekhatchila one ought to combine the blue and white threads when fulfilling the mitzva of tzitzit, and one ought to combine the tefilin worn on the hand and the tefilin worn on the head "so that there be one existence to the two of them."[24] But, nevertheless, the one is not an indispensable factor regarding the other. (This is not in any way connected to the controversy among the Rishonim whether or not blue and white threads are counted as a single mitzva, and similarly regarding head and arm tefilin.) Why then should seeing the Chanuka candles – or the ability to see them – be indispensable for the fulfillment of the obligation to light them? Thus, there do not seem to be any grounds to exempt a blind person unless we define the element of seeing the Chanuka candles as a fundamental dimension of the publicizing of the miracle accomplished through the lighting, as it follows from a precise reading of the Ritva and the Orchot Chayyim, and according to one possible understanding of Rashi and the Rambam. But even if we assume a close connection between the seeing and the lighting – the former raising the level of the latter, and not merely joining to it – it is still possible that a blind person's obligation to light Chanuka candles depends on a controversy among the Rishonim.

 

            The Gemara at the end of Arvei Pesachim (Pesachim 116b) states: "Rav Acha bar Ya'akov said: A blind person is exempt from reciting the Hagada. It is written here (Shemot 13:8): 'For this,' and it is written there [regarding a rebellious son] (Devarim 21:20): 'This our son.' Just as there to the exclusion of the blind, here too to the exclusion of the blind. Is this so? But surely Meremar said: I asked the Sages of the house of Rav Yosef: Who recites the Hagada in the house of Rav Yosef [who is blind]? They said: Rav Yosef. Who recites the Hagada in the house of Rav Sheshet [who also is blind]? They said: Rav Sheshet. They maintain: Matza in our time is by rabbinic decree. Does this imply that Rav Acha bar Ya'akov maintains: Matza in our time is by Torah law? But surely Rav Acha bar Ya'akov maintains that matza in our time is by rabbinic decree! He maintains: Whatever the Rabbis ordained, they ordained similar to the Torah law."

 

It follows from this passage that, according to Rav Acha bar Ya'akov, the mitzva of reciting the Hagada requires that one point out the matza and maror and illustrate the story of the exodus from Egypt by way of a direct physical and experiential connection, which includes seeing, to the objects included among the mitzvot of the night. Since a blind person is incapable of fulfilling this aspect, he is entirely excluded from the mitzva. As for the discussion regarding the situation in our time, the Gemara apparently understood that, according to Rav Acha bar Ya'akov, the entire mitzva of relating the story of the exodus in our time is only by rabbinic law, for even seeing people are like blind people, since they are unable to point to matza which must be eaten by Torah law, for in our time no such matza exists. The question therefore arises whether it is possible to fulfill the mitzva by rabbinic decree, because the Sages waived this element, in which case even a blind person should be obligated, there being no difference between him and a seeing person. Or perhaps even the Sages require this element, but it can be fulfilled through matza that is ordained by rabbinic law. In this case, a blind person should be exempt even in our time, since he can point out neither Torah matza nor rabbinic matza: "And just as during the time of the Temple he was exempt, so too now he is exempt" (Rashbam).[25]

 

            This, indeed, seems to follow from the talmudic passage, according to the Rashbam and most of the Rishonim who accepted his reading of the talmudic text. But the entire matter is astonishing. First of all, in several places the Gemara discusses whether the obligation of matza and maror in our time is by Torah law or rabbinic decree. To the best of my knowledge, however, nowhere is it suggested that any Amora maintains that the obligation of relating the story of the exodus from Egypt in our time is only by rabbinic decree, even if for only an indirect reason. Second, logically speaking, it is truly very difficult to understand why a blind person should be exempt for this reason. Let us assume that illustrating the story with a physical gesture constitutes an additional dimension of the mitzva, and let us assume that it is by Torah law. Does it stand to reason that this should be an indispensable element in the mitzva, so that anyone who does not have matza or maror in his field of vision is exempt from the obligation of relating the story by Torah law? And if we assume that a seeing person who relates the story without having matza before him fulfills his obligation, does it stand to reason that a blind person is exempt, similar to the law that whenever mixing is possible, the real act of mixing is not indispensable, but whenever mixing is impossible, the real act of mixing is indispensable? ('Kol hara'uy le-belila ein belila me'akevet')

 

Moreover, the comparison to the law of a rebellious son is very difficult. There, we are dealing with the administration of a punishment, and thus it is possible to say that in light of the scriptural decree of "this our son," he is not liable unless all the conditions alluded to in the verse are met, even those that are not required in actual fact for his liability. This is similar to what we find elsewhere (Sanhedrin 71a): "Rabbi Yehuda says: If his mother did not resemble his father in voice, appearance, and stature, he does not become a rebellious on. What is the reason? For the verse states: 'He does not listen to our voice.' Since we require that they be similar in voice, we also require that they be similar in appearance and stature." Thus, it is understandable that the fact that his father or mother is blind should exempt the rebellious son according to the Sages. But regarding obligation in and fulfillment of a mitzva, even if we interpret "for this" as relating to a specific matza, following Rav Acha bar Ya'akov, how do we know that one who is unfit to fulfill the mitzva in the best possible manner is therefore entirely exempt? On the contrary, we should say that he should fulfill the mitzva to best of his ability, if the additional dimension is not indispensable with respect to a seeing person. See Rashbam at the end of the passage who understood that according to those who disagree with Rav Acha bar Ya'akov, "Rav Sheshet and Rav Yosef did not learn the gezera shava." This formulation implies that the exemption stems from a scriptural decree[26]; but the matter requires further study.

 

            Rabbenu Chananel has an illuminating comment: "Rav Acha bar Ya'akov said: A blind person is disqualified from reciting the Hagada. And the conclusion is that he is qualified to recite the Hagada, because matza in our time is by rabbinic decree." Rabbenu Chananel does not have the reading of "exempt" (patur), but rather "disqualified" (pasul). According to this reading, the entire passage is very understandable. Rav Acha bar Ya'akov never contemplated exempting a blind person, for such an exemption is not at all reasonable, as explained above. The question is only whether or not he is qualified to recite the Hagada, the focus of the problem being his ability to recite it on behalf of others. For in the time of Chazal it was customary that only one person – generally, the head of the household – recited the Hagada, all the others fulfilling their obligation by hearing the Hagada from him. Thus, a question arises whether a blind person can recite the Hagada on behalf of a seeing person. While a blind person is certainly obligated in the mitzva itself, nevertheless he can only fulfill it at a lower level without the element of "for this," whereas a seeing person is obligated to fulfill it on a higher level that includes the experience of "for this." Rav Acha bar Ya'akov proposed that a blind person cannot recite the Hagada on behalf of a seeing person. You might have thought that there is no need whatsoever for "for this," or that it is merely a side element, so that it is possible to combine the recitation of the blind person with the pointing of the seeing person, and thus fulfill the mitzva in a perfect manner. Rav Acha bar Ya'akov teaches us that the physical gesture constitutes a qualitative layer of the Hagada, which must be rooted in and connected to the act of telling itself, and not only in the overall fulfillment of the mitzva. Thus a blind person cannot recite the Hagada for others. Even though, after the fact, the other people certainly fulfill their basic obligation when they hear his recitation of the Hagada, for regarding the minimal fulfillment of the mitzva we certainly say that one who hears is like one recites, nevertheless, ideally speaking, he is disqualified to recite the Hagada on their behalf.

 

According to this reading, the passage also never proposed that, according to Rav Acha bar Ya'akov, the mitzva to relate the story of the exodus from Egypt is today only by rabbinic decree, for the main element of the mitzva can be fulfilled even without pointing out the matza, and this can be done in our time as well. The question was only regarding the lekhatchila situation: Is it necessary in our time to seek out a seeing person to recite the Hagada for others, so that he will at least point out the rabbinic matza? Or do we say that there is no need to do this since we do not have Torah matza, and seeing people are no better than blind people? The Gemara's question proves this point. It does not deal with Rav Yosef and Rav Sheshet in and of themselves, but rather with "the house of Rav Yosef." In other words, who recited the Hagada on behalf of the other members of the household? It is possible to refute this proof, and say that the Gemara asked whether or not they recited the Hagada for others in order to clarify whether they are regarded as being bound by the mitzva. For had we been told that they recited it for themselves, we might have been able to say that they did so as pious conduct, as one who does even though he is not commanded to do so. Nevertheless, the whole passage is much simpler according to Rabbenu Chananel's reading and explanation.

 

            If we come to compare lighting Chanuka candles to reciting the Hagada, it turns out that according to the Rashbam and those who follow him, if we merely define seeing the candles as an essential element of the mitzva of lighting them and not as an additional side fulfillment, it is certainly possible that a blind person should be exempt from lighting Chanuka candles. According to Rabbenu Chananel, however, even if we accept the aforementioned definition, it stands to reason that he should be obligated in the mitzva, and that he must fulfill it to the extent possible. Clearly, however, there is no necessary comparison and proof, for it is possible that the element of seeing in relation to the lighting is more significant than the element of pointing in relation to the mitzva of relating the story of the exodus from Egypt, even though the two mitzvot, this by Torah law and this by rabbinic decree, share the same general nature - fulfillment of the obligation of publicizing a miracle. For it is possible that the lighting is not considered a lighting of mitzva unless not only is the miracle publicized, but it is publicized first and foremost to the lighter himself and through him to others. For any lighting that is not accompanied by this qualitative dimension – that the lighter himself should feel and experience the publicizing of the miracle - is not lighting. Nevertheless, the comparison is instructive.

 

            According to this approach, however – and here we come to the second question mentioned above – even if a blind person is obligated to light for himself, he cannot, lekhatchila, light on behalf of others, parallel to his disqualification to recite the Hagada, according to Rav Acha bar Ya'akov. But as we shall see, this conclusion is not absolutely necessary. For the obligation to retell the story of the exodus from Egypt is cast upon each individual, who fulfills his obligation by way of the rule that one who hears is like one who recites.[27] But the obligation regarding Chanuka candles is "one candle for a person and his house"; there is no obligation that each individual must light separately. While it is true that the act of the mitzva is the lighting – for which we recite the blessing, as the Gemara demonstrates (Shabbat 23a) that the lighting constitutes the mitzva, "for we bless, 'who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to light the Chanuka candle'" – the fulfillment of the mitzva lies in the very presence of the candle in the house and in the publicizing of the miracle that follows. And while it is true that the candle must be lit in the proper manner, or else it is not regarded as a Chanuka candle, as long as such a candle exists, the mitzva is fulfilled through its very presence. Thus, when a person lights on behalf of his family, he does not have to do anything to make his lighting relate to them as well, in the manner of the rule that hearing is like reciting. All that he must do is create a Chanuka candle, and then they fulfill their obligation automatically. For this reason, the Shulchan Arukh (675:3) brings two opinions whether or not a minor who has reached the age of education can light on behalf of his household, even though regarding megila reading, he rules (689:2) against R. Yehuda, that a minor cannot read on behalf of an adult, without distinguishing between a minor who has reached the age of education, and one who has not. Already the Magen Avraham (689, no. 5) noted the contradiction, and concluded that it is "difficult to distinguish between megila and Chanuka candles." In truth, however, it is possible to distinguish, for each individual is personally obligated in megila reading, and he fulfills that obligation when he hears the reading from someone else, whereas a single lighting that creates a Chanuka candle suffices for the entire house. Thus, if a minor is capable of creating a Chanuka candle even with respect to an adult – and on this point the Rishonim disagree – all the members of his household fulfill their obligation. While the author of the Ittur,[28] the source for those who validate the lighting of a minor, did not build on this foundation, for he qualifies a minor even for megila reading in accordance with R. Yehuda, there is no difficulty in the rulings of the Shulchan Arukh, and his distinction is clear and correct.[29]

 

            For this reason, even if a blind person cannot recite the Hagada for others, it is certainly reasonable that they should fulfill their obligation regarding Chanuka candles through his lighting. For regarding the Hagada, as long as there is a qualitative difference between his fulfillment and their obligation, they should not rely on him lekhatchila, for they will lack one layer of the mitzva. Regarding Chanuka candles, however, if a blind person can create a Chanuka candle, the other members of the household should fulfill their obligation of "one candle for a person and his house." For they have a candle lit in their house, and this is just like the law pertaining to a minor according to the author of the Ittur. Even though his position has not been accepted as the halakha, this is merely because a minor in relation to an adult is not defined as under obligation – this point being the subject of a major controversy between the great Rishonim – and not because the principle stemming from the law of "one candle for a person and his house" was rejected. If, therefore, we wish to disqualify a blind person from lighting on behalf of his household, we must go one step further and say that not only is there no fulfillment on the level of a seeing person, since he is unable to see, but even the Chanuka candle that he has created is somewhat blemished and does not meet the requirements of the obligation of a seeing person. While this is certainly possible, it seems more likely that the difference here lies in the level of fulfillment, and not in the cheftza of the candle. We don't seem to be dealing here with two candles, "a candle that is seen," and "a candle that is not seen," but rather a single candle. Since a blind person is capable of creating a Chanuka candle, he can also light on behalf of others.

 

HALAKHA

 

            As for the practical halakha regarding the dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages, most Rishonim have ruled in accordance with the Sages, and so too the Bet Yosef (Orach Chayyim, 473), the Magen Avraham (53, no. 16), and the Vilna Gaon (Orach Chayyim 675, no. 2). While the Mordekhai (Megila, no. 798) appears to have accepted the position of Rabbenu Tuvya of Vienna who ruled in accordance with R. Yehuda, and so too ruled Rabbenu Yerucham (netiv 13, part 1) – and other Rishonim may also have accepted this position, which a number of posekim have taken into consideration[30] – we have already clarified that that even according to R. Yehuda there is room to obligate a blind person in Chanuka candles. According to the Sages, the Maharshal established in his responsum - though according to him it is preferable whenever possible to circumvent the problem by having someone else light - that a blind person is fundamentally obligated in Chanuka candles. This certainly stands to reason, as was explained above. So too ruled the Peri Megadim (end of sec. 675): "A blind person is obligated when he has his own house, and according to this he can also light for others." It may be assumed that this was the position of the Magen Avraham (675, no. 4) who cites the responsum of the Maharshal without comment. A number of later posekim have written, however, that a blind person should light without a blessing.[31] The source of this position, which was adopted by the Chida in Machazik Berakha, and the Mishna Berura, and to which the Arukh ha-Shulchan is inclined, is R. Ya'akov Emden in Mor u-Ketzi'a (sec. 675): "The Acharonim write in the name of the [Maha]Rashal that a blind person must light. They may agree, however, that he should not recite a blessing. This is also implied by what we say that one who sees [Chanuka candles] recites a blessing. All the more so according to what the Magen Avraham writes below (sec. 692) regarding a person who does not have a megila, that he should not recite a blessing, and all the more so, here. Even… I agree here where the person is unfit. Even if you say he is obligated in other mitzvot, nevertheless regarding a mitzva that depends upon seeing is different. Even though the Maharshal offers a reason that an obligation is cast upon him to publicize the miracle for others, and this he is able to do, nevertheless, it is not fully clear, and no proof can be brought. It may also be argued that he is not under obligation; see what I have written in a responsum about a blind person regarding Torah reading. Even according to the opinion that he is obligated in all the mitzvot, perhaps it is only by rabbinic decree, and therefore it is preferable that he should not recite a blessing. Needless to say, he should not light on behalf of others." As for what he writes at the end of the passage that a blind person should be exempt because a blind person is not obligated in mitzvot, we have already discussed this argument above. As for what he adds that even according to the opinion that he is obligated in mitzvot, he may only be obligated by rabbinic decree, this is contradicted by the plain sense of the talmudic passages, and all the Rishonim, who make no distinction, thus implying that according to the Sages, a blind person is obligated in mitzvot by Torah law. Even according to what he writes in his responsum (She'eilat Ya'avetz, no. 75), the Sages said this only with respect to a person who was born blind, and not regarding a seeing person who became blind. Besides this, even if we grant that indeed a blind person is obligated in mitzvot only by rabbinic decree, why should he, therefore, not recite a blessing over Chanuka candles? Surely the Tosafot (Rosh ha-Shana 33a, s.v. ha, and parallel passages) and other Rishonim have written as a simple matter that a blind person recites blessings over mitzvot, even according to R. Yehuda, and even if we assume that a woman does not recite blessings. Why then should he not recite a blessing here? From where we do we derive a distinction between Torah mitzvot and rabbinic decrees?

 

            What is most surprising is the comparison drawn between our issue and the words of the Magen Avraham regarding one who does not have a megila. Surely the Magen Avraham relates exclusively to the Shehecheyanu blessing – the blessing over the reading of the megila is certainly not even considered – and he rules that this blessing is not recited over the holiday in itself, or over mishlo'ach manot or the Purim meal. How is this connected to the matter under discussion? Those who say that a blind person recites a blessing – does he recite the blessing over the holiday, and not over the lighting? The bottom line is that R. Ya'akov Emden's position is very problematic, and it is difficult to use it as the basis of a ruling; moreover, even R. Ya'akov Emden says what he says merely as a "possibility."

 

            There is, however, room for serious doubt regarding one of the blessings, namely, the She'asa nissim blessing, for this blessing was enacted even for one who sees the Chanuka candles but does not light them. Thus, it may be argued that even one who lights does not recite the blessing as a lighter, but as a seer, in which case a blind person should not recite the blessing. This, however, depends on a controversy between the great authorities. For the She'iltot (Vayishlach, commandment no. 26) writes: "When the day arrives that a miracle had been performed for Israel, e.g., Chanuka or Purim, one is obligated to recite the blessing 'asher asa nissim la-avoteinu bi-zeman ha-ze' over the candle and on Purim over the reading of the megila." His wording implies that the She'asa nissim blessing is fundamentally a blessing of praise and thanksgiving, similar to the blessing recited by one who sees a place in which a miracle had been performed for Israel. According to this, it seems that the blessing should be recited following the lighting, like all the blessings mentioned in chapter Ha-Ro'e that are recited after encountering the phenomenon.[32] The Rema, however, rules (676, no. 2): "And he should recite all the blessings prior to his lighting." This, indeed, is the prevalent custom. According to this opinion, we must say that the She'asa nissim blessing is a blessing recited over the performance of a mitzva, or at least that it is also a blessing recited over the performance of a mitzva. This, however, may still be explained in one of two ways: The blessing may relate to the fulfillment of seeing the Chanuka candles, and it is recited prior to this fulfillment. Or perhaps it relates to the fulfillment of lighting the candles, and was set prior to that fulfillment. Since we are dealing with a mitzva, the fulfillment of which involves the publicizing of a miracle, Chazal did not suffice with the usual "who has commanded us with His mitzvot and commanded us" blessing, but rather they added a blessing that relates to the miracle. See Ritva (Shabbat 23a) who discusses the timing of the blessing: "It is customary to recite the three blessings prior to the lighting because regarding all mitzvot, the blessings are recited prior to their performance, just as one recites the three blessings prior to the reading of the megila. Some say that the first blessing, being a blessing recited over the performance of a mitzva, must be recited prior [to the lighting], but the two others are recited after one starts to light, so that one should see the miracle and recite a blessing over it, like one who sees Chanuka candles. There should be no deviation from the common custom." The comparison to megila reading implies that a single mitzva, without splitting it into its component parts, obligates two blessings, in accordance with the second explanation suggested above. So too the Vilna Gaon (Orach Chayyim, 676, no. 2) compares Chanuka candles to megila reading, and the same inference may be drawn from his words.

 

            In light of these opinions regarding the nature of the She'asa nissim blessing, we can discuss a blind person's obligation with respect to this blessing. According to the second opinion in the Ritva, it seems that he should not recite this blessing. The same applies to the first explanation offered above in the Rema, that the blessing is recited prior to the lighting immediately preceding the seeing. But according to what is implied by the Ritva and the Vilna Gaon, a blind person should certainly recite the blessing. Earlier we discussed the view of the Rambam that one who sees Chanuka candles and afterwards lights recites the She'asa nissim blessing twice. According to one possible understanding of this position, the blessing has a double character. The first time it is recited as a blessing over seeing – obviously this is only after he sees – and at the time of lighting it is recited as a blessing recited over a mitzva. If we accept this position, once again it is clear that a blind person should recite the She'asa nissim blessing.

 

            According to the Meiri, it is clear that a blind person should recite the blessing, but for an entirely different reason. See Bet ha-Bechira (Shabbat 23a): "One who lacks with what to light, and does not find himself in a place where he can see [Chanuka candles], some say that on the first night he recites the She'asa nissim blessing and the Shehecheyanu blessing to himself, and on the other nights he recites the She'asa nissim blessing. This seems correct." According to this, even if we fundamentally accept the position of the She'iltot that we are dealing with a blessing recited over praise and thanksgiving, there is no need to recite it over the seeing of the candle, and only lekhatchila must it be joined to the mitzva, but bedi'eved it may be recited over the holiday itself, parallel to the Shehecheyanu blessing. According to this, it is clear that a blind person should recite it, for he should be no worse that one who has neither lit Chanuka candles, nor seen them. Taking all these opinions into consideration, it seems proper to rule that a blind person should recite the blessings, especially according to the prevalent custom of reciting all the blessings prior to the lighting, though doubts may be raised about the matter.

 

            It follows from all that has been said above that a blind person is obligated to light Chanuka candles in accordance with the opinion of the Maharshal, and that he recites the required blessings over his lighting, as is implied by the wording of the Maharshal's responsum, including the She'asa nissim blessing. However, that very responsum contains another limitation, for it opens: "If he is in a house where others are lighting and he can participate through [the contribution of] a peruta, and they will recite the blessing, this is preferable." As for his suggestion that the blind person's wife should light for him, this involves a stringency that leads to a leniency. For the Ra'avya writes in Hilkhot Chanuka (no. 843): "A woman certainly lights and she may also light on behalf of a man." This is, indeed, the ruling of most of the Rishonim. However, in his rulings to Megila (no. 569), afer having cited the position of the Halakhot Gedolot that a woman cannot read the megila for a man, the Ra'avya adds: "That which we said in [tractate] Shabbat, in Bame madlikin, that a woman certainly lights, for Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Women are obligated in Chanuka candles, I checked in the Halakhot Gedolot and he doesn't say anything, and I do not know whether or not the two should be explained in one sweep." We see then that he was in doubt about the matter. Moreover, he discusses the comparison between a minor and a woman. "I am in doubt whether a minor can act on behalf of women, or a woman on behalf of a minor, both regarding megila [reading] and lighting [Chanuka candles]." According to one side of his uncertainty, a woman cannot act on behalf of the minor, because she is obligated because "they too were in the miracle," and the minor is obligated because of education, as a future adult, and there is a qualitative difference between them. On the other hand, it may be suggested that a minor can act on behalf of a woman, even though it seems that according to the Ra'avya a woman cannot act on behalf of a man. Thus, the suggestion that the blind person's wife should light for him removes one uncertainty, but arouses another uncertainty, even if it is only based upon a minority, or even a sole dissenting opinion.

 

            This problem does not exist according to the first proposal, participating in the lighting of another person through the contribution of a peruta. Here too, however, there is room for discussion. For it would appear that the Maharshal follows his own opinion, this being in contrast to the prevalent custom today, at least among Ashkenazim. See his responsum which summarizes the laws of Chanuka (no. 85) where he decides in favor of the position of the Rambam that even according to the optimal manner of fulfilling the mitzva (mehadrin min ha-mehadrin), only the head of the household lights, according to the number of days, and the number of the members of his household. He also rules that a lodger who knows that his wife is lighting for him at home is forbidden to light again with a blessing. And he strongly objects to "what today the young men are stringent upon themselves not to participate [through the contribution of] a peruta." According to this opinion, if several people live in the same house, only one candle should be lit through the participation of all of them with a peruta. Thus, if one of them is blind, and the question arises which of them should light, there is no reason for the blind person to light, when he can fulfill his obligation through the lighting of a seeing person. According to the Rema (671:2), however, that "each member of the house should light, and this is the prevalent custom," it is certainly more reasonable to accept the position of the Terumat ha-Deshen[33] that even when it is possible to participate through the contribution of a peruta, it is permissible to light separately. And thus indeed rules the Rema below (677:3), the ruling being confirmed by the Taz (no. 1) and the Magen Avraham (no. 9). According to the ruling of the Rema, the separate lighting of each of the lodgers is not intended merely to remove suspicion, as is implied in a responsum of the Maharil (no. 145). But rather it follows from the basic law in order to fulfill the level of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin. According to the Maharshal, the blind person's participation in someone else's lighting through the contribution of a peruta can only be beneficial, for it constitutes a complete fulfillment of his obligation, without introducing any new uncertainty. According to those who follow the Rema, however, it requires a waiver of the level of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin. Thus, if we assume that there is a serious doubt regarding the obligation of a blind person, it may in fact be better to waive the element of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin so as not to enter into a situation of uncertainty regarding blessings. This perhaps is the position of the Magen Avraham who cites the position of the Maharashal as halakha (675:3), without analyzing it in light of the position of the Rema.[34] If, however, as it appears to me, a blind person is fundamentally obligated to light Chanuka candles - and this also was the position of the Maharshal, only he presented his suggestions in order to avoid all doubt - these suggestions must be reexamined in light of the prevailing Ashkenazi custom.

 

            And above all else, as my son, Moshe, has pointed out to me, a blind person's obligation in Chanuka candles seems to follow from an explicit ruling of the Rambam. Defining the people who are obligated in Chanuka candles, the Rambam writes (Hilkhot Chanuka 3:4): "Whoever is obligated in megila reading is obligated in lighting Chanuka candles." There is no question that a blind person is obligated in megila reading, and thus he is also obligated to light Chanuka candles, and he is not exempt on the grounds of some special connection between seeing and the mitzva. The words of the Rambam are clear, and without a doubt, a blind person even recites the blessings. Quite astonishingly, several great posekim have dealt with our question, entirely ignoring the words of the Rambam. Perhaps, according to them, a blind person is not included in that ruling, for even if he is not exempt in his person, he may nevertheless be excluded from the mitzva owing to the fact that in practice, he cannot fulfill it. Nevertheless, it would seem that the Rambam should have clarified all this, and since he did not, his words constitute strong proof.

 

            Thus, we may say that based on the Gemara as well as upon logical reasoning, we must conclude that a blind person is obligated to recite the blessings and light Chanuka candles; that he can even light on behalf of those living in the same house who wish to suffice with the lighting of another person; if he prefers to rely on the contribution of a peruta or on the lighting of his wife, he is permitted to do so even though there is no need to prefer these avenues – at least according to us who follow the Rema – for he thereby loses the element of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin.

 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[24] Ba'al ha-Ma'or, end of Rosh ha-Shana; the principle is, of course, connected to the law: "As long as they are between your eyes, they should be two" (Menachot 36a)

 

[25] Rabbenu Yerucham (netiv 5, part 4) writes: "A blind person is exempt from reciting the Hagada just as he is exempt from all the mitzvot… Nevertheless he is obligated by rabbinic decree. He can recite the Hagada on behalf of others, according to the opinion that matza in our time is by rabbinic decree, for one who is obligated by rabbinic decree can act on behalf of one who is obligated by rabbinic decree. Thus it is proven in Pesachim."  There is, however, no proof to this position from the Gemara. There it says that if a blind person is obligated only by rabbinic decree, he can act on behalf of others in our time. But this is only if his exemption is because of the law of "this," for in our time the law of "this" provides a general exemption. If, however, a blind person is exempt because of the position of R. Yehuda, he may not be able to act on behalf of others whose basic obligation in the mitzva is by Torah law. There is also the issue of terei derabanan – rabbinic obligation because of two factors.

 

[26] See, however, Chiddushei ha-Ran, who writes: "This means that even according to Rav Acha bar Ya'akov it is not a gezera shava… but merely an argument that just as we interpret there to the exclusion of blind people, so too here."

 

[27] It is possible that in the framework of this mitzva, the hearer functions not only as one who is equivalent to the reciter based on the law that hearing is like reciting, but also in the capacity of listener. That is to say, as one who participates in the process of the storytelling, serving as the party to whom the story is directed and who takes it in. Children, for example, participate in the mitzva by Torah law in this capacity, and not as parties who are personally obligated to relate the story. It seems that this dimension exists with respect to adults as well, in addition to the dimension of hearing is like reciting which applies to all mitzvot involving recitation.

 

[28] See what he says in Hilkhot Chanuka (115b, ed. R. M. Yona) and in Hilkhot Megila (113b, ibid.).

 

[29] The distinction being proposed here is between the act of the mitzva – the lighting – and the fulfillment of the mitzva – the presence of the candle. Various Rishonim have written that the Sages instituted Chanuka candles following the model of the Temple. See Chiddushei Rabbenu Chayyim ha-Levi, Hilkhot Bi'at Mikdash 9:7, who explains that according to the Rambam, who allows a non-kohen to light the menora in the Temple, there is no mitzva in the lighting itself, but rather the mitzva is that the candles should be lit. Thus, it is possible that the basic nature of this mitzva served as the model for the mitzva of Chanuka candles. According to the opinion that the mitzva consists in setting the candles in their place, there is, perhaps, nothing more to the mitzva of Chanuka candles than that the candles should be lit. The Gemara's proof from the blessing that the mitzva consists in the lighting is not merely from the wording of the blessing, but from the very fact that there is an act over which a blessing may be recited, which is not the case if the mitzva consists in setting the candles in their place. However, according to the opinion that the mitzva consists in the lighting, the Sages added another level – creating a cheftza of a Chanuka candle, for without defining the lighting as a mitzva, the candle would remain totally abstract, which is not the case in the Temple, where the candles have character in and of themselves. Or it is possible that the Sages instituted the lighting as an act of mitzva, for there is a model of lighting in the Temple that is an act of mitzva even according to the Rambam, following Rav Chayyim (ibid.). Such an explanation may be proposed for the position of the Ra'avad (ibid.), for he too maintains that the fulfillment in the Temple lies in the presence of the candles, but they are not considered candles of the Temple unless they were lit in the context of the Temple service. One way or another, it is possible to understand that the fulfillment resembling that in the Temple must relate to each and every individual, but for the creation of the candle – again similar to that in the Temple – one lighting suffices.

Elsewhere (Ha-Mishpacha be-Halakha, in Mishpachot Bet Yisra'el [Jerusalem, 1976), pp. 22-23), I proposed a different distinction: The obligation of Chanuka candles falls on the house as a unit, and not on each and every member of the household as individuals. This parallels mitzvot that are cast upon the community, rather than upon individuals. This distinction may also be anchored in a model found in the Temple, but what I have written here seems to be more correct.

 

[30] See the summary of the views of the various posekim in Sedei Chemed, Kuntrus Divrei Chakhamim, no. 69.

 

[31] Sha'arei Teshuva (675, no. 3) and Mishna Berura (675, no. 9) cite this position together with the view of the Maharshal, leaving the impression that they wish to impose this limitation on his words. There is, however, no hint of such a reservation in his responsum, and had the Maharshal had any doubts about a blind person's obligation, he most certainly would have stated this explicitly.

 

[32] See the discussion of this issue in R. Moshe Sternbuch's Mo'adim u-Zemanim ha-Shalem, no. 147.

 

[33] No. 101. See also Taz, 677, no. 1; and see what I wrote in Alon Shevut (put out by Yeshivat Har Etzion), Pesach, 5734, pp. 41-48.

 

[34] This also seems to be the position of the Arukh ha-Shulchan, 675, no. 5, who writes: "There is one who hesitates and says that a blind person should not recite the blessing. It is proper to act in this manner, since the primary publicizing of the miracle is through sight, and he does not see. It is, therefore, proper that whenever possible the blind person should avoid reciting the blessing."

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 

 

 
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