Pirsumei Nisa And Selling Your Shirt – By Rabbi Binyomin Radner

chanukahThe Rambam (Hilchos Chanuka 4:12) states, “The Mitzvah of Ner Chanuka is especially important. One must be very careful with it and cause the memory of the miracle to be well-known, to praise Hashem for the miracles which He performed for us.

Even one who’s livelihood comes from charity, must either go collecting or sell his shirt in order to purchase oil and candles with which to light Ner Chanuka. If he only has enough for either Kiddush or for Ner Chanuka, then Ner Chanuka takes precedence. Since they are both midarabanan, the Ner Chanuka takes priority since it contains the component of the commemoration of the miracle. (Pirsumei Nisa.)”

This Halacha is not mentioned in the Gemara with regards to Ner Chanuka. The Gemara, Shabbos 21-24 expounds upon the story and laws of Chanuka for approximately 3 dafim, yet does not mention this comparatively unique idea which certainly seems to be a remarkable chiddush. It is quite an intriguing concept that one must sell the shirt on his back in order to fulfill a mitzvah which is strictly rabbinic in origin. At the very least it should be worthy of mentioning. However it is not, which makes it all the more intriguing. Firstly, this Halacha is an incredible chiddush. Secondly, it is omitted entirely by the Gemara. Even more puzzling is that we do not find this type of jargon mentioned even with mitzvos mi’dioraysa. More so, many other Halachos of Ner Chanuka are mentioned there in the Gemara, yet this one is strikingly absent.

So, what exactly is Pirsumei Nisa?
What is the logic behind Pirsumei Nisa being given more deference than anything else?

If it is just pershuto kemashmao that it is to be mefarsaim the nais, then why is ner chanuka mefarsaim the nais of Chanuka any more than Tefillin is merfarsaim the nais of yetzias mitzrayim?

And why are they so extreme that we go all out for them even more than for Mitzvos Dioraysa? We do not find this concept mentioned with any other mitzva that one is obligated to sell the shirt on his back in order to fulfill it!
How is it that we should be more stringent for a mitzvah dirabanan than for a mitzvah dioraysa? And why to such extremes to require people to sell their last belongings in order to fulfill Pirsumei Nisa?

The Magid Mishna explains that the Rambam derived this from the laws of the four cups of wine on Pesach. With the four cups we find that even a poor man who gets his sustenance from charity must fulfill the mitzvah of drinking the four cups on Pesach. He must sell the shirt on his back or go knocking on doors if need be, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of drinking the four cups. This is because of Pirsumei Nisa. So kol shekain and certainly, it applies to Ner Chanuka as well, which takes precedence over Kiddush on Shabbos, that one must sell his shirt in order to fulfill Ner Chanuka.

The words of the Magid Mishna are somewhat cryptic in what the kol shekain is and in how the derivative from the four cups work.

Accordingly, the Lechem Mishna challenges the ’kol shekain’ of the Magid Mishna. If we say that Ner Chanuka overrides Kiddush then that is synonymous with saying that Ner Chanuka is pirsumei nisa. The four Cups which also have the component of pirsumei nisa is on equal footing with Ner Chanuka. It is not stronger or weaker, just equal. Hence, the Magid Mishna should not have said that it’s a kol shekain but rather a Hu Hadin. Meaning, the Pirsumei Nisa of Ner Chanuka is just as important as the Pirsumei Nisa of the four cups. Not more and not less. He concedes that we derive this unique halacha from the four cups, albeit via the methodology of hu hadin as opposed to ko shekain. He closes with a tzaich iyun on the ko shekain of the Magid Mishna.

The Elyah Rabah also challenges the kol shekain of the Magid Mishna, that there is no pirsumei nisa by kiddush. So what is the parallel from kiddush to the four cups? He suggests that perhaps Pesach has other things to commemorate it that we can fall back on like Matzah and Marror, whereas on Chanuka the Ner is the primary mitzvah. Therefore, Ner Chanuka is in a way more vital to Chanuka than the four cups is to Pesach, and therefore the kol shekain is logical. For if Pirsumei Nisa requires selling your shirt for the four cups when it is just one of several things to commemorate Pesach with, then certainly it requires selling your shirt for Chanuka when the Ner is the sole commemoration.

The Avnei Neizer (O.C. 1:501) comes to the defense of the Magid Mishna and explains as follows: What is the reason that Ner Chanuka should override kiddush because of Pirsumei Nisa? Kiddush is also Pirsumei Nisa! Shabbos is a testimony to masseh beraishis as we say in kiddush -zecher lemaaseh beraishis. And the creation of the world had even greater miracles than the exodus from Egypt did. So why is it that the four cups which commemorates the miracles of the redemption from Egypt, overrides kiddush which commemorates the much greater miracles of maaseh beraishis? Shouldn’t it be the contrary? The answer is that the four cups has the element of Pirsumei Nisa which means that there is a special inyan to make it known to others. It is affirmative that kiddush commemorates the miracles of maaseh beraishis which are greater than the miracles of yetzias mitzrayim. But kiddush does not specifically have the element of spreading it to others. Kiddush is strictly between you, yourself, and G-d Almighty. However the four cups has the component of Pirsumei Nisa which means that there is a special inyan to spread it to others. With all mitzvos one is not obligated to sell his shirt because of the rule in Shas that, “One who intends to do a mitzvah but did not end up doing it, the Almighty considers it as if he did it.” However, a mitzvah that contains the component of pirsumei nisa will be in a different category since one’s good thoughts and intentions do not help those around him. So kiddush is just like all other mitzvos and is overridden by Pirsumei Nisa. Now we can understand the kal vachomer from the fact that Ner Chanuka takes precedence over kiddush. The more you must spread a mitzvah to other people the more stringent it is.

Ergo, now the kal vachomer is perfect. With the four cups on Pesach there is no inyan to spread it to other people, just to one’s family members. Whereas with Ner Chanuka there is a special inyan to light by the doorway to the public thoroughfare, in order to be mefarsaim the nais to the public. So if the four cups, which only has the element of Pirsumei Nisa to one’s household members, one must sell the shirt on his back to fulfill, then kol shekain Ner Chanuka which has the element of Pirsumei Nisa to the public, one must sell his shirt for. The kol shekain works perfectly now. This is why it is only with Pirsumei Nisa that we find this terminology in Chazal that one must sell the shirt on his back in order to accomplish it.

Is this to be understood literally that one is obligated to sell the shirt on his back in order to buy oil for Ner Chanuka?
The answer to this question, of course is, “It’s a machlokes!”

The Pri Migadim (Mishbitzoz Zahav, 671:3) says not quite. You can keep your shirt.

By a mitzvas asei such as esrog, one is not required to spend more than a fifth of his assets. It is the same with Ner Chanuka. You are required to spend up to a fifth and not more. Apparently, the understanding of Pri Migadim is that selling the shirt on his back is not to be understood literally, it is just a figurative expression of the high significance that Chazal accorded to Pirsumei Nisa.

So they used a somewhat more aggressive terminology for emphasis, but not for practicality. One is not required to sell his shirt in order to fulfill Ner Chanuka.

However, the consensus of the majority of the Poskim seems to be that it is in fact to be taken literally.

Rabi Akiva Eiger (O.C. 671:1) cites the view of the Pri Migadim and proceeds to argue on it. He maintains that Chazal mean what they say and it is to be understood literally. For a poor man to have to sell the shirt on his back in order to purchase Ner Chanuka, it is implicit that this is the case even if his shirt is more than a fifth of his total assets.

He cites support to this from the Mogain Avrohom, Hilchos Esrog 656:7 in the name of the Maharshal – Yom Shel Shlomo Bava Kama 81:24.

The Rema rules that one should not spend more than a fifth of his assets on an esrog. Mogain Avrohom specifically notes that this does not apply to Ner Chanuka or to the four cups where even one must go all out to fulfill them. So Mogain Avrohom explicitly holds that only with Pirsumei Nisa one is required to spend more than he has for a mitzvas asei.

Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 671:2) is machria like R’ Akiva Eiger that it is specifically with regards to Pirsumei Nisa of the four cups and of Ner Chanuka that one must sell the shirt on his back, not with all other mitzvos. He does not go with the Pri Megadim. He also mentions that it is an abnormal situation to find one who must resort to selling his shirt in order to fulfill Ner Chanuka. This whole discussion seems to be more academic than practical.

But Biur Halacha (Hilchos Lulav 656:1 d.h. Afilu) argues that it would apply to all other mitzvos asei, as well. He points to the Shulchan Aruch (Hilchos Shabbos, 363:2) that we find the same terminology with regards to Ner Shabbos, which has nothing to do with Pirsumei Nisa! Ner Shabbos is a mitzvah which is only midivrei kabala, not even midioraysa. So certainly and kol shekain for a mitzvas asei midioraysa like Tefillin and Shofar one would also have to be machzir al hapesachim to fulfill them. He takes issue with Elyah Rabah Siman 25 who says that you do not go knocking on doors for all mitzvos. He cites the Mohr Uketzia which mentions this challenge and leaves with a tzarich iyun. As they are not of less importance than mitzvos which are only midarabanan like Ner Chanuka, Ner Shabbos, and the four cups on Pesach.

The Penai Yehoshua (Shabbos 21A) questions why it is that with Ner Chanuka instead of the mitzvah being on each individual person like every other mitzvah, that it is instead on the house as a whole. He suggests that perhaps it is because of Pirsumei Nisa, and tzarich iyun.

Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 671:17) answers that other mitzvos are different from Ner Chanuka. With Esrog the mitzvah is taking it, with Shofar and Megillah the mitzvah is hearing it. Ner Chanuka is unique in that the mitzvah is seeing it. Seeing it is the Pirsumei Nisa. But it is impossible to see it unless someone lights it. Therefore, only the baal habayis must light it, and then everyone else can see it. That is why they enacted a bracha for one who just sees Ner Chanuka even though he didn’t light it. One who sees the Ner Chanuka makes the brachos of She’asa Nissim and of Shehecheyanu, just not Lehadlik Ner.

According to Reb Ovadya Yosef (Chazon Ovadya Mitzvas Hadlokas Ner Chanuka Ois 2) as well the chiyuv is to be understood literally that one must sell his shirt in order to fulfill Ner Chanuka.

The Vedibarta Bam, Siman 190 expounds upon this topic at length. He quotes R’ Dovid Feinstein, as well, that selling the shirt on your back only applies to Pirsumei Nisa and Ner Shabbos, not to all other mitzvos.

Rambam concludes, “If he only has enough for either Ner Shabbos or for Ner Chanuka then Ner Shabbos takes precedence because of Shalom Bayis. For even the name of Hashem gets erased in order to make shalom between man and his wife. How great is shalom that the whole Torah was given in order to make shalom in the world, as it says ‘Diracheha darchei noam vechol nesivoseha shalom.”

So the final breakdown would be as follows:

Mitzvos asei require up to a fifth, Pirsumei Nisa requires selling your shirt for, and Shalom Bayis overrides Pirsumei Nisa. Thus, Shalom Bayis overrides everything.

How interesting that the way the Rambam concludes Hilchos Chanuka is by reminding us that only for Shalom Bayis does G-d allow having His name erased, that the whole Torah was given in order to make shalom, and that Shalom Bayis overrides everything, even Ner Chanuka and Pirsumei Nisa.

This work is strictly informational. For a final ruling if, when, and for what, one is required to sell his shirt, a Halachic authority must be consulted.

A Freilichin Chanuka!

Written by: Rabbi Binyomin Radner
For any comments or questions please contact the author at [email protected]

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