“The mitzvah of lighting chanukah candles is one candle per family. Those who are mehadrin light one candle for person, and those who are the mehadrin among the mehadrin… Beis Hillel taught, light another candle each night.” (Talmud, Shabbos 21b). The word mehadrin generally is understood to mean “those who beautify their performance of the mitzvahs.” Thus, the Talmud would be telling us that one who is meticulous is his performance of mitzvahs and fulfills them in the fullest and most beautiful way has a couple of options on Chanukah as to which level he can attain in his observance. Rashi in his commentary to that piece of Talmud offers another understanding of the word mehadrin. He teaches that mehadrin means “those who seek out mitzvahs.” In other words, those who are on fire, and passionate about doing good deeds will do so in their lighting of Chanukah candles.
It is fascinating to consider that it is uniquely on Chanukah that we are offered these special methods of seeking out the best and most exceptional way of fulfilling a mitzvah. While this characteristic of being impassioned in our search for perfection is certainly an ingredient that must be present in ones path to great achievement, what is it about this specific mitzvah that brings out not only mehadrin but even the mehadrin among that already select group.
When we complete a course of Torah study, for example a full book of the Talmud, the custom is to say “Hadran alach, we will return to you we will return to you Volume so and so – we will not forget you.” The word hadran is the same word as mehadrin, it means to seek something out, and move towards it. It is most challenging to forget something when that something is your stated goal. When you are headed out the door to meet the person you love at the airport, you may forget to pick something up along the way, but it is far less likely that you will forget when you are headed. We mention in our prayers how the Chanukah story was about “the wicked Greek government rising up to try to cause the Jewish people to forget Your Torah.” Chanukah is our response to that challenge. When we are running after something, when the mitzvahs of the Torah are so exciting to us that we seek not only to do them well, but even once we are already there, we chase them more and more always seeking perfection, it is this way that we ensure that we not forget. And so it is on Chanukah that we rush after the mitzvahs in a special way. We did not forget the Torah – and the secret to that was keeping our passions directed on our mission.
Being mehadrin and then even more mehadrin is the key to passing along our amazing Torah lifestyle. We have to keep that passion and fire alive. Our sights have to be set on our mission, on our goals. We must be those who chase after mitzvahs. Never a chore, Chanukah tells us that mitzvahs are the greatest of privileges. We have the chance to partner with God to make the world the perfect place that it can be, adding a little bit each night. Our secret is that we not only fulfill our obligations as we must, but that we seek to love those mitzvahs more and more, never settling for mediocrity, always feeling the passion and excitement of yet another opportunity to chase after what is right.
– Rabbi Elchanan Shoff