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Thought for the Day: Olive Oil Is Best, Wax Candles Is Good; What About Little Sticks for Chanuka Licht?

Here's a cool thing to show your kids.  Blow out a candle, then hold a lit match just above -- but not touching -- the wick.  The candle will (re)burst into flame!  Cool, eh?  The trick works and is fun because we think that wax burns.  It doesn't.  Neither does oil, for that matter.  What happens with was candles is that the heat used to light the candle first melts the was into a little pool of liquid.  (With oil, of course, you skip this step.)  The liquid is then further heated and evaporates into a flammable cloud, which immediately (more or less) catches fire.  That's how the trick works.  When you blow out the flame, the pool of liquid is still hot enough for a short time to still be producing flammable gas.  Of course, we are not here to talk about cute bar tricks; well... we not only here for that.

The mitzvah of lighting chanuka licht is to fulfill the requirement of "pirsuma nisa"/publicize the miracle.  The main components of that mitzvah are: the kind/source of light, how long the light must be prepared to last, and placement.

The lights have to be placed in such a manner so that it is obvious they are for pirsuma nisa only and not for some other use.  That's why we need them higher than three t'fachim (so they don't look like they were just left there on the floor) and less than 20 amos (so people will see them without having to crane their necks.  The best is to put them less than 10 t'fachim so that it doesn't look like you put them there for some other use.  We generally also put them near a window that faces the r'shus harabim (Rema/Mishna Brura).

The lights must be prepared in such a way that b'derech ha'teva, they will last approximately 30 minutes.  That is, there needs to be enough fuel and the area where you light needs to be protected enough from wind and squirrels that the lights can be expected to burn that long.  Note that this one of the problems with using electricity, you can't prepare a "shiur" of electricity; electricity is always only generated on demand.  Even a battery doesn't really store electricity -- it generates it on the fly via a chemical reaction; though Halichos Shlomo paskens that a battery can -- in case of need -- be considered to have a store of electricity.

Source of Light
It has to be single flame, not a torch; again so it is obvious that it is only for publicizing the miracle.  The M'chaber says that olive oil is best.  The Rema favors candles because the flame is so clear.  Suppose you use thin sticks of wood that will burn the requisite half or so hour with a single clear flame; would that be good?  On the one hand, it seems to satisfy all the requirements.  On the other hand, it is a completely different process than oil/wax, which has fuel drawn by a wick.  Even though Chazal did not require olive oil, maybe they wanted something that works similarly.

Halochos Shlomo paskens that he is not sure.


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