Shabbat Parashat Vayeishev | 5768
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I will be working late on Chanuka and will arrive home around 10 or 11 PM. Can I light with a beracha when I come home (note - I live alone)? If not, can I do so at work?
Answer: Firstly, one may not light at work with a beracha. The mitzva is really only in a home. Although a minhag extends the practice to a shul (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 671:7) and some apply it to large gatherings of Jews, such as weddings (see Piskei Teshuvot 671:15), at a simple workplace even with several Jewish workers one may not light with a beracha.
One option that you did not mention is to ask (or hire) someone to light for you as your agent in your house. This is possible if you have a place (practically, probably a window to the street lower than 30 feet) where passersby can see the lit menorah. However, this option has drawbacks. The Magen Avraham (676:4, accepted by most poskim, including the Mishna Berura 675:9) says that if a man lights a menorah for a woman in her house, he can make the berachot only if she is there. Different understandings of the rationale and parameters of this ruling exist. Mikraei Kodesh (Frank- Chanuka 23) says that the first beracha, which is a standard beracha before performing a mitzva, can be made in any case. The matter is only in regard to “she’asa nissim…” and Shehecheyanu (on the first day), which are connectedto seeing the publicizing of the miracle. They thus can only be made by or in the presence of he to whom the mitzva applies. Igrot Moshe (OC I, 190), agreeing with the thesis, points out that if the agent already lit for himself, he may not make that beracha again and if he makes it first for his friend, he will be unable to make it in his own house. Others say that the Magen Avraham does not even allow the first beracha (Minchat Shlomo II, 56). Note though that even if the agent does not make the beracha out of doubt, the mitzva itself was certainly fulfilled (if people can see the candles). It is also generally preferable to do a mitzva oneself and therefore we will explore if you can fulfill the mitzva when you come home.
Regarding lighting late, there are two opinions in the gemara (Shabbat 21b) regarding whether there is a deadline for lighting during the night, namely when people stop walking around outside, which used to be half an hour into the night. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 672:2) says that one lights even if that time has passed, and many assume it is with a beracha (see Magen Avraham ad loc.:6). In contrast to Talmudic times, there is now more room for flexibility for two reasons. In many of our neighborhoods, people walk around late at night and this it is possible that the deadline is later than 11 PM (we cannot judge from here). Secondly, for most people, who light inside their homes, the main element of the mitzva is to publicize within the home (Chayei Adam 154:19). Therefore, the Mishna Berura says that if people are awake in the home, one can light with a beracha even after the general deadline. However, he says, if everyone is sleeping and it is impractical to wake them for one’s lighting, he should not make a beracha, although one who makes the beracha need not be stopped (Sha’ar Hatziyun 672:17). In your case, since you are the only one there, it should be like the situation of doubt. However, there are strong indications that since your household is regularly just one person, lighting for yourself would be considered a legitimate lighting under those circumstances and would warrant a beracha (see ibid. and Chemed Moshe 672:3).
In summary, if you light in a neighborhood where people do not walk around late at night and passersby can see your menorah, it would be good if possible for someone to light for you at the regular time and for you to light later, both without berachot. Otherwise, you can just light for yourself when you come home with a beracha.
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