שיטת הרמבם בדין ברכת הרואה וענין דפרסומי ניסא

Menachem Lazar

We explain the Rambam's radical yet simple understanding of the gemara about birchas haroeh (Shabbos 23a, Sukkah 46a). In doing so, we also focus on the Rambam's shita in the role which pirsumei nisah plays in how certain mitzvose should be performed.

The second perek of shabbos discusses many halachose of hadlakas neirose shabbos, and in turn many halachose of hadlakas neirose chanukah - why we light, where we light, when we light, how many, what shmanim, and so forth. On daf 23 the gemara discusses what appears to be a tangential and bdieved halach, about someone who can't light in the ideal way, because he is traveling or is not home for another reason. In what follows we will explain a marvelous shita of the Rambam that you've likely never seen, even if you've seen that Rambam many times before. I have not seen the Rambam explained this way before, and so I am pretty sure that this understanding is original, and I hope that by the end of this shiur you will agree that there is no other way to read it.

I. Birchas Hare'eh

The Gemara on Shabbos daf 23 (and also in Sukkah 46), states:

אמר רב חייא בר אשי אמר רב המדליק נר של חנוכה צריך לברך

A person who lights the candles of chanukah must recite a bracha. The gemara soon explains that even though this is a mitzvah drabanan, we can still say אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וציוונו because Hashem did indeed command us to listen to the chachamim, and so even a mitzvah drabanan, on some level, is a mitzvah d'oraisa, and saying vtzivanu is completely appropriate. That halacha is interesting in its own right, but right now I'd like to focus on the next line in the gemara.

ורב ירמיה אמר הרואה נר של חנוכה צריך לברך

What is going on? Rashi provides two different explanations. First,

העובר בשוק ורואה באחד החצרות דולק

If a person is passing through the market and sees a menorah lit, then, states R' Yirmiya, he should make a bracha. Next, Rashi quotes the opinion of Rabeinu Yizchok ben Yehuda, in the name of Rebbi Yaakov, that this bracha was only instituted for someone who has not yet lit in his house, or who is on a boat. According to this opinion, only if one has not yet lit can he say this bracha. It is not stated explicitly, but it seems that according to the first opinion, a person can make the bracha even if he has already lit at home! This sounds like a pretty extreme position, and it is a shita which we do not follow lmaaseh.

The rishonim disagree about the exact parameters of this halacha. According to some, a person only makes this bracha if he has not yet lit. According to others (e.g. Meiri), a person would only make this bracha if he has not yet lit and also does not intend to light later. According to others (e.g. Rashba), a person only makes a bracha while passing if he hasn't lit, won't light himself, and others will not light for him. The list of different understandings of these halachose is long, and somewhat detailed, and for our purposes we need not say more than we have so far.

What we have here, then, is a discussion about what appears to be a bdi'eved situation. A person is traveling and unfortunately cannot be with his family, and, it seems, did not bring a menorah or candles with him. Or perhaps even if he brought candles he wouldn't be able to light for some reason, and the question is under what circumstances can he be yotzeh, perhaps only bdieved, by seeing a different menorah lit. It appears to be a situation remote from lchatchila, but for whatever reason, when it comes to neirose chanukah, something small is better than nothing at all. Tosfos in Sukkah indeed ask why here we have a (bdi'eved) option that does not exist for other mitzvose. We will eventually answer this question in a way different from Tosfos.

Before considering shitas Harambam on this sugya, we make a short note about the way in which the this halacha appears in the gemara. Usually, when the gemara says אמר ר׳ פלוני וכו׳ ור׳ פלוני אמר וכו׳, it indicates a machlokes amoraim. In this case, however, it is not clear what sort of machlokes exists here. R' Chiya bar Ashi (in the name of Rav) and R' Yirmiya state what appear to be two unrelated halachose. We will return to this point towards the end of the shiur.

In any case, the Rambam in Hilchose Chanukah (3:4) quotes the gemara almost verbatim, and appears to pasken like its conclusion:

והמדליק אותה בלילה הראשון מברך ג' ברכות ואלו הן וכו' וכל הרואה אותה (ולא בירך) מברך שתים

It appears that the Rambam paskens according to the simple reading of the gemara, in a similar or perhaps identical way to the Rabeinu Yitzcok ben Yehuda which Rashi quoted. We point out that there is a question of girsa here in the Rambam (see noseh keilim and Frankel), and some girsaose omit the words vlo bireich. We will later consider a raya from a tshuva of the Rambam that indeed these words should not be here.

In any case we have a fairly straightforward gemara about a person that cannot fulfill the mitzvah of hadlakah in an optimal manner, or else is in a position where he has not yet fulfilled the mitzvah optimally and an opportunity arises to fulfill it partially. By and large we have not paid great attention to the details - in exactly which cases would a person say this bracha? What if he is on his way home where he will light there? What if he's not going home and won't light, but others will light for him? These questions are dealt with by many of the Rishonim, but right now we will not address them. One reason I'm not super excited about discussing these details, and this is something that I imagine others have also felt, is because this sugya is a bit of a bdi'eved sugya. Lmaaseh, we all try to be home with our families for chanukah, we don't travel on cruise ships at this time of year, and certainly not ones that can see menorahs on land, and lmaaseh these questions do not regularly arise.

II. Hadlakas Neirose Chanukah, Mikra Megillah, and the Mitzvah of Magid

Before returning to explain what is so marvelous about the Rabmam's shita here, we will turn our attention to a completely different topic, but one that bears heavily, as we will see, on the Rambam's understanding in this sugya. The Rambam at the beginning of the same halacha we saw earlier (3/3) writes:

כל שחייב בקריאת המגילה חייב בהדלקת נר חנוכה

All people who are chayav in reading the megillah are chayav in lighting chanukah candles. Who are these people that are chayav in reading the megillah? The Rambam states at the very beginning of hilchose mikra megilla:

הכל חייבים במקרא המגילה אנשים, נשים, גרים ועבדים משוחררים

All free adults are chayav in mikra megilah, and consequently also in hadlakas neirose chanukah. Are women chayav? According to this Rambam absolutely yes. What about adult children? Absolutely. What about your adult children that live at home? Absolutely. Yet, later on the Rambam appears to paint a different picture:

ד,א כמה נרות הוא מדליק בחנוכה--מצותה שיהיה כל בית ובית מדליק נר אחד, בין שהיו אנשי הבית מרובין, בין שלא היה בו אלא אדם אחד. והמהדר את המצוה, מדליק נרות כמניין אנשי הבית, נר לכל אחד ואחד, בין אנשים בין נשים. והמהדר יותר על זה ועושה מצוה מן המובחר, מדליק נר לכל אחד ואחד בלילה הראשון, ומוסיף והולך בכל לילה ולילה, אחד.

ד,ב כיצד: הרי שהיו אנשי הבית עשרה--בלילה הראשון, מדליק עשרה נרות; ובליל שני, עשרים; ובליל שלישי, שלושים; עד שנמצא מדליק בליל שמיני, שמונים.

It is perfectly clear that according to the Rambam only one person is lighting in each home. And so we may ask: the Rambam says that all adults are chayav in hadlakas neirose chanukah, yet it is clear that only one person is lighting. So which is it? Or, if all are chayav, how are they all yotzeh their chiyuv with one person lighting?

With respect to women, people say different things. In many places the minhag was for woman not to light. In such places we may ask, if women are chayav in this mitzvah, af hen hayu b'oso haneis, then why don't they light, or how are they yotzeh? This question can be asked generally and also in the Rambam. Some people suggest using the principle of ishto kgufo (e.g. Mishna Berurah). But this is a difficult opinion to justify, since we don't find anywhere else that ishto kgufo is a way to be yotze a chiyuv. So this is really a very big chidush, and not pashut at all that it should work. Moreover, nowhere does the Talmud, nor any of the rishonim, mention this principal in this context.

Some believe that the general din of shlichus can operate in hadlakas neirose chanukah (c.f. Ramban Pesachim 7). We can then suggest that a husband can fulfill his wife's mitzvah through shlichus. But this too is a difficult suggestion for a number of reasons. First, is it obvious that shlichus could work in a mitzvah shbgufo? Even if this isn't a mitzva shbgufo, in which case shlichus is more likely to work, would we require a minui shliach? This is not something that the Rambam or others mention. Does an adult child, let's say a boy above bar mitzvah that is still living at home, does he need be m'mane his father as a shliach to light candles for him? Moreover, we have a general principle of mitzvah bo yoser mbishlucho. Why, then, according to the Rambam, does each member of the family not light their own candle(s)? The suggestions of ishto kgufo and shlichus are both dachuk, especially in the Rambam who does not mention either.

A similar confusion, if you will, arises in two other places in Sefer Zmanim. In hilchose mikrah megillah, right before discussing the halachose of Chanukah, the Rabmam discusses the other big yomtov drabanan. The Rambam begins Hilchose Megilah by stating that all adults are chayav in mikrah megillah:

והכל חייבים בקריאתה אנשים, ונשים, וגרים, ועבדים משוחררים

It is clear that all free adults (the Rambam later states that ketanim are also included through chinuch) are chayav in reading the megillah, bkriyasa. And yet in the very next halacha the Rambam makes clear that not all people need to actually read it, and even listening is ok:

אחד הקורא ואחד השומע מן הקורא יצא ידי חובתו

And this raises for us a similar question: if all adults are chayav in kriyas hamegilah (literally, reading of the megillah), how is it that only one person is actually reading? Or, how do people who are only listening to the reading fulfill their mitzvah?

Initially this might sound like a weak question. Is it not davar pashut that we employ the din of shomea k'oneh? Although a reasonable suggestion, we note that the gemara itself (at least the Bavli, the Yerushalmi is less clear) never mentions the din of shome'ah k'oneh in the context of mikrah megilah, and neither does the Rambam. The Rambam could have mentioned this principal here as he explicitly mentions it in other contexts (Hilchose Tefilah 8/9, Hil. Brachose 1/11), but he does not. And so we can at least ask, does the Rambam believe that those who listen to mikra megillah fulfill their chiyuv through shome'ah k'oneh?

At this point we have two cases in which the Rambam makes very clear that a large group of people - all free adults - are chayav in a mitzvah and yet only one person is performing the mitzvah directly, and we want to know how the other people are yotzeh their chiyuv. We've pointed out several possibilities: shlichus, shome'ah k'oneh, and ishto kgufo (which the achronim never mention in the context of kriyas hamegilah). We've also pointed out some weaknesses in these suggestions, and also noted that these explanations are nowhere alluded to in either the gemara or the Rambam.

Before addressing these two questions, we consider a third place in Sefer Zmanim where we have a similar, perhaps identical, problem. At the very end of Hilchose Chometz Umatzah, the Rambam, like the gemara, details the halachose of the mitzvah of magid. The Rambam begins perek zayin:

מצות עשה של תורה לספר בניסים ונפלאות שנעשו לאבותינו במצריים, בליל חמישה עשר בניסן וכו'

There is a mitzvah to tell over, to discuss, the miracles and amazing wonders that HKB"H performed for our forefathers as they left Egypt. In contrast to Chanukah and Megilah, the Rambam does not elaborate whether this mitzvah is only for males or even for females. The Sefer Hachinuch and Minchas Chinuch disagree about this point. Either way, it appears (though is not explicit) that at the very least all adult males are chayav in this mitzvah. The Rambam counts it in Sefer Hamitzvose, and there's no reason to think that some adult males are patur from this mitzvah. And yet when the Rambam describes what goes on during this seder, he states:

מצוה להודיע לבנים ואפילו לא שאלו ... לפי דעתו של בן אביו מלמדו ... ואם היה הבן גדול וחכם מודיעו מה שאירע לנו במצריים ... כדי שיראו הבנים וישאלו

Like the Mishna and Gemara before him, the Rambam paints a picture in which a father is teaching his children. From the Rambam it sounds as if only one person, namely the father, is fulfilling the mitzvah of vhigadta lvincha. And so we are left to wonder how do other people present fulfill their chiyuv? It is quite understandable if the children mentioned here are very young, under bar mitzvah. In this case we might not be terribly concerned because ketanim are generally patur from mitzvose. But in the Rambam, as in the gemara and in the mishna, the discussion revolves around parents and children, fathers and sons, without distinction made between a child that is a katan or a gadol. Lmaaseh, this is a very practical question because at our own sedarim we, of course, all aim to fulfill this mitzvah. And a question thus arises regarding how we should do that. If all adults, or at least all male adults, are obligated in this mitzvah, how then do all of them fulfill the mitzvah? How does the adult child fulfill his chiyuv? All this of course bears on the practical question of what is the best way to conduct the seder.

It is worth noting that there are different minhagim (at least that I have seen) regarding the seder. In some families, only the father reads the hagadah, with the exception of the mah nishtanah, and in some way this is very traditional, following the story painted in the mishna. In other families, family members and guests take turns reading different parts of the text. They might go around the table, each reading a paragraph or two. In some families that are very careful about mitzvose, very mdakdekim, each person reads the entire hagaddah themselves. This is a custom I'd like to return to later.

The question which we would like to address is how do most people, who are not fathers, or not the father of the seder, fulfill their mitzvah? The Minchas Chinuch suggest that this works through shome'ah koneh. And this sounds like a reasonable suggestion. However, like we noted in mikra megillah, there is no mention of shome'ah k'oneh in the Rambam, nor anywhere in the Gemara in Arvei Psachim. So it's possible, but there might be room to suggest something else.

Up to this point we've seen three cases in the Rambam, and likely in halacha more generally (since most agree with most of the Rambam's psakim here), in which a large category of people are chayav in a mitzvah, and yet only one person, it appears, actually performs the mitzvah. And we want to know how do the others, the 90%, fulfill their chiyuv? How does the wife watching her husband light, or a high-school boy listening to his father say maggid, or an average person listening to the megilah being read in shul, how do these people fulfill their mitzvah? Why aren't they each performing the mitzvah themselves?

III. Pirsumei Nissah

To begin answering our questions, the most important note worth making is that all three of these mitzvose have a strong connection to what the gemara calls pirsumei nissah, an element of publicizing a miracle. The gemara in Shabbos discusses a question of priority:

בעי רבא נר חנוכה וקידוש היום מהו קידוש היום עדיף דתדיר או דילמא נר חנוכה עדיף משום פרסומי ניסא בתר דאבעיא הדר פשטה נר חנוכה עדיף משום פרסומי ניסא:

The gemara concludes that ner chanukah takes precedence because of its element of pirsumei nisah. Even if the answer had been that kiddush was given priority because of tadir, the gemara can still maintain that chanukah has an important element of pirsumei nisah. And that is quite reasonable - we attempt to put the menorah in the doorway or window to face the public, we light it at a time when people will see it - publicity plays a huge role in neirose chanukah in a way that it doesn't in neirose shabbos or netilas lulav, for example. That is what the gemara calls pirsumei nissah.

With respect to mikrah megillah as well the Gemara in Megillah (3b) says:

בעי רבא מקרא מגילה ומת מצוה הי מינייהו עדיף מקרא מגילה עדיף משום פרסומי ניסא או דלמא מת מצוה עדיף משום כבוד הבריות

The gemara concludes that a meis mitzvah takes priority, but not because megilah lacks pirsumei nissah, but only because the weight afforded to kavode habriyose. Later (18a) the gemara again raises the element of pirsumei mitzvah in the context of megillah, and so it appears that this is still maintained.

Finally with respect to the mitzvah of magid - the gemara in arvei psachim asks:

ואפילו מן התמחוי וכו': פשיטא לא נצרכא אלא אפילו לרבי עקיבא דאמר עשה שבתך חול ואל תצטרך לבריות הכא משום פרסומי ניסא <מודי> [מודה]

That is, the gemara understands that the element of pirsumei nissah justifies, even for R' Akiva, taking charity to purchase the daled kosose for the seder. Of course you could read this gemara narrowly as a point about daled kosose, but the simple reading is that pirsumei nisah isn't just about the daled kosose, but about the entire leil haseder - ein lcha pirsum haneis gadol msipur nisim vniflaose!! Indeed, the Geonim asked why we don't say the bracha of sh'asa nisim by the seder like we do by megilah and chanukah (of course pirsumei nisah and sh'asa nisim don't have to go together, but it's very reasonable that saying the bracha indicates that we're dealing with something involving pirsumei nissah). R' Asher mLunil in his Sefer haMinhagose answers that on Chanukah and Purim we don't really verbalize, at least explicitly, the nisim that Hashem did, and so we need to say a bracha to make that clear. On leil haseder, since we actually verbalize the nisim themselves, the bracha is unnecessary. Not all the rishonim like this answer, but even in offering alternative explanations, the rishonim do not suggest that pirsumei nissah is only a din in the daled kosose. We are recounting the nisim that Hashem performed, and it's reasonable that the gemara's statement of pirsumei nisah by daled koses was not really limited to that at all.

We have thus far established an important component of pirsumei nissah in all three of our examples. So what? Let's take a step back to think about what it means to be mefarsem a nes. If you were asked to publicize something, to make sure people knew about it, you would probably not talk about it by yourself in your basement with no one watching. That would be a very lousy way of publicizing something. Instead, you might want to walk outside with a sign so that everyone that walks by knows about it. Or you might go to some place like a shul where there are many people and tell them all about it. Or maybe you'd invite people to an event in your home and tell them about it. This is indeed how the halacha asks us that we do pirsumei nissah. We light a menorah outside near the door, or window, so people passing by can see it. We can only do it at certain times when people are there (according to the Rambam this is m'akev), and we must place it at certain positions where people will see it and understand what it is they are seeing. On Purim, we go to the shul and read the megillah, publicizing the miracle, when everyone will be there. This is a very very good way of making sure everyone knows about it. On Pesach, we gather a group in our homes and discuss, lfi da'ato shel ben, the nisim vnifla'ose that HKB"H made. These are excellent ways of being mefarsem a nes.

Now, as I've alluded to, it's very important to have an audience for pirsumei nissah. If there are no people and you hold up signs, or light the menorah, and no one sees it, you haven't really done a very good job of publicizing anything. It might not be your fault, but you haven't done a good job of publicizing. Or if you go to shul, get up on the bimah, open the megillah, and read it, but no one is there to listen, that too is a poor execution of a job of pirsumei nissah. And if on leil haseder, you have no guests, you are alone, then certainly bdieved you are still yotzeh (afilu beino lvein atzmo), but it's certainly not ideal, because it's a terrible way to fulfill pirsumi nissah.

IV. Group Performance

If this is correct, then we can consider a completely different way of understanding the halachose that we've discussed. On leil haseder we need to put together a group to publicize the nes. We need a person (or people) telling the story and other people that are asking questions and listening. All of these people can participate in the mitzvah, as they are all involved in sippur yetzias mitzrayim. But that doesn't mean that every single person needs to tell the story him or herself. Indeed, if all people are telling the story, as is the minhag in some families, and no one is listening to anyone tell the story, then in some sense no person has really told the story at all. Or if they have, they've fulfilled the bdieved afilu beino lvein atzmo. It is this great irony in those families in which all people say every word of magid to themselves - contrary to the picture passed down in our mesorah, in the mishna and gemara and poskim, where the father is telling the story - and these people are, ironically, doing a much worse job of performing this mitzvah. The reason the tradition describes the performance as done in a group, with a father and children, is because that is the ideal way to publicize the nissim that we want to publicize.

The same can be said regarding mikrah megillah. We have noted before that nowhere in the Bavli is there a reference to shome'ah k'oneh in the context of megillah. This is mentioned in the achronim, but it certainly does not appear in the Bavli. Why? The reason, I think, is that we don't need to pretend as if each person has read the megilah him or herself. That was never necessary in the first place. In fact, as we know, it's very bdieved for each person to stay home and read the megillah themselves. Lchatchila we require ten people. And it's all for this reason, because pirsumei nissah should be done as a group, and that means, at least the way the chachamim were koveya this particular mitzvah, that we have a person, or people, reading the story to a tzibbur. All people must participate, and of course we need at least one person to read the megillah, but other people fulfill their mitzvah by participating in the communal kriya. But not necessarily through shomeya k'oneh, since we never needed them to read it themselves. In fact, the gemara in Megilah (18a) might indicate this idea:

והא לא ידע מאי קאמרי מידי דהוה אנשים ועמי הארץ מתקיף לה רבינא אטו אנן האחשתרנים בני הרמכים מי ידעינן אלא מצות קריאה ופרסומי ניסא הכא נמי מצות קריאה ופרסומי ניסא:

The point might be that it is not crucial for those listening to understand each word. And that is not because you can satisfy shome'ah k'oneh without understanding, but because we don't need understanding, and we don't need shome'ah k'oneh at all. The important point is that the people, the tzibur, be present. People can participate by their presence at a communal reading, even without complete understanding.

This then brings us to the mitzvah of hadlakas neirose chanukah. The question is: how are the other bnei habayis yotzeh their chiyuv if they don't light? By this point, answering this question can be quite straightforward. The answer is that we never required each person to light. We only require that they all - that is all adults, men and women alike and equally - participate in hadlakas neirose chanukah. And just like you can participate in a daf yoni shiur without actually giving it, and just as you can participate in many activities without taking the lead role, so too in chanukah, you can participate in hadlakas neirose chanukah in a way other than lighting: you can participate by watching. Non-lighters participate as ro'im, as people who watch the hadlakah. They are the people to whom the person who is lighting is advertising, to whom he is publicizing. That is why the mitzvah should be lchatchila performed ner ish ubeiso, a candle per man and his family, one candle per group. Even though people will walk by on their way home from the shuk, we prefer to have ro'im present at the lighting itself. This makes the lighting an act not only one of lighting a candle, zecher lanes, but also one of pirsum hanes. This explains why the Rambam understood that only one person should be lighting. The Rambam doesn't need ishto kgufo, doesn't need shlichus, doesn't need shome'ah k'oneh or any other legal "as if". The ro'im participate as exactly that, watchers, and in doing so play a crucial role in fulfilling pirsumei nissah.

V. The Rambam's Simple Reading of the Gemara in Shabbos

At this point it pays to reread the Rambam and then the gemara itself. The Rambam writes:

והמדליק אותה בלילה הראשון מברך שלוש ברכות ... וכל הרואה אותה (ולא הדליק) מברך שתיים שעשה ניסים לאבותינו ושהחיינו.

Does the Rambam have a case in which a person is traveling, on a boat or otherwise, or walking in the shuk? Absolutely not!! There is no such ukimta in the gemara and the Rambam himself never discusses it! Certainly the gadal hamechabrim would have let us know if he was discussing a more complicated case, even if the gemara itself had some reason for being less explicit. Who, then, is the roeh that the Rambam describes? It is none other than the nine people in the room, the other bnei habayis!! They are the people that are not lighting and only watching, the 90%. According to the Rambam, they don't make the brachose on lighting itself (להדליק), but they are still participating in the mitzvah, and therefore still make the two other brachose! I can accept that some of the rishonim believed this ukimta in the gemara, but if the Rambam believed it, he certainly would have stated so explicitly. The Rambam is certainly not talking about holchei drachim, a person coming home from the shuk, or any other ukimta mentioned by other rishonim.

[Earlier we alluded to a question about the correct girsa in the Rambam's discussion here. The way that most of our Rambam's are printed, after v'chol ha'ro'eh osah there appear two words "vlo bireich". The Lechem Mishne (and some ksivei yad, see Frankel) appears to not have had those words. I think we can bring a raya to this girsa, omitting the extra two words, from an amazing tshuva of the Rambam. The Rambam was asked (Tshuva 108/222), what happens if a person lights the menorah and then later has another opportunity to light the menorah. Does he say another bracha?

שאלה ותורינו במי שהדליק נר חנוכה ובירך ואחר כן נזדמנה לו אחרת או שראה אחרת אם צריך לחזור ולברך על הדלקתה או ראייתה או לא.

The Rambam answers in a straightforward manner:

תשובה דבר זה תלוי בכוונת המברך כמו בשאר ברכות. אם היתה כוונתו להוציא בברכה זו בתים אחרים ברכה אחת לכלן, ואם בירך והדליק ואחר כן נזדמנה לו בית אחרת יברך פעם אחרת ואפילו מאה פעמים‪.‬

The Rambam makes clear that one can make a birchas r'iyah, and even a birchas hadlaka, after one has already fulfilled the mitzvah. This is an absolutely amazing shita that would be relevant in many practical questions about lighting multiple times in one night, and making brachose multiple times.]

Let's also look back at how the Rambam himself likely read the gemara. Hold on to your seats because we'll now read the gemara in a way that's completely different from how we read the gemara before, but at the same time it is very clean and simple, and the way in which the Rambam read it.

According to what we suggested earlier, namely that the ro'eh plays an integral role to the mitzvah of hadlakas neirose chanukah, we can ask a very simple question - who makes the bracha? Perhaps the madlik should make the bracha, because without him there would be no hadlakah. Yet, we have also come to the realization that without the ro'im there also wouldn't be a very good hadlakah. So maybe they are the ones that should say the bracha? or perhaps both should make a bracha? And here is where we have a machlokes between R' Chiya bar Ashi amar Rav and Rav Yirmiya, also a talmid of Rav, as to who makes the bracha:

אמר רב חייא בר אשי אמר רב המדליק נר של חנוכה צריך לברך ורב ירמיה אמר הרואה נר של חנוכה צריך לברך

These are not two unrelated statements that happen to be next to each other. These are two opinions disagreeing about who should make the bracha. Should only the madlik make a bracha, or should only the ro'im make a bracha? Or perhaps they agree that the madlik makes a bracha, and disagree about whether the ro'im should also make a bracha. Either reading appears reasonable in our gemara. The second reading, however, is actually supported by a girsa of these statements that appears in Midrash Sechel Tov, a 12th century compilation of midrashim by R' Tuvia bar Eliezer:

ורב ירמיה בר אבא אמר הרואה נמי צריך לברך

The word "nami" makes clear that R' Yirmiya is not stating an independent halacha, but is either adding to or disagreeing with R' Chiya bar Ashi. This girsa then supports the Rambam's reading. In any case, regardless of the word "nami", this way of reading and understanding our gemara, of course, is completely different from how almost all of the rishonim read it, but it's also the way the Rambam must have read it.

The gemara then concludes that both the madlik and the ro'im make brachose. Either this is the opinion of R' Yirmiyah, or else a compromise position of the gemara like neither of talmidei Rav. And this is the way in which the Rambam read the gemara, which is consistent with why he believed that in all cases - even in mehadrin min hamehadrin - only one person should be doing the lighting. Allowing each person to light themselves would not only not add to the performance of the mitzvah, but would indeed take away, and would turn what should be a group mitzvah that accomplishes a "mega" pirsumei mitzvah into a mitzvah of many individuals, none of whom are involved in a very effective pirsum.

This understanding of the gemara will also of course answer the famous question Tosfos raised earlier. Tosfos asked why we have a birchas ha'roeh by chanukah and not by any other mitzvah. Since Tosfos understood this bracha to be a bdi'eved case of the traveler who is unable to perform the mitzvah in the best way, this raises a very legitimate question for other mitzvose. But of course in this reading of the gemara, there is no room for such a question.


A sugya that appeared to be tangential and bdieved is actually a central lechatchila halacha for the Rambam. We connected this to another beautiful shita of the Rambam, who sees the mitzvose of pirsumei nissah - hadlakas neirose chanukah, kriyas hamegilah, and sippur yetziyas mitzrayim - as ones that require a group to perform. The chiddush of the Rambam is that not all people need to participate in the same capacity. The ro'im in hadlakas neirose chanukah play an integral role to the mitzvah, and thus say a bracha even though they are not lighting themselves. This direction alleviates the need to introduce ideas such as shlichus and shome'ah k'oneh (and ishto kgufo) into the sugyas of mikrah megillah, hadlakas neirose chanukah and sippur yetziyas mitzrayim.

There are a number of issues that need to still be considered. One such issue is the din of achsnai. A more practical one is clarifying what constitutes "participation". Is a person yotze magid if he merely listens to his father tell the story? Does he need to ask at least a question? Separately, we might consider how af hen hayu b'oso haneis is relevant to this discussion. Also, if it is true that ro'im say sh'asa nisim, are the shomim mikra megilah also expected to say this bracha? This point is unclear in the Rambam. We might also consider what the Rambam would think to do in the case of a traveler. Can he say sh'asa nissim even if he only sees the menorah from a distance, and is not immediately present at the hadlakah?