The gemara in Shabbat, in discussing the mitzva to light Chanukah candles, lists three levels of fulfillment of this commandment. The first level is the minimal requirement, which is that one person in each household lights one candle each night. The second level is known as mehadrin, and is realized by having every person in every household light one candle on each night. The highest level of performance of this commandment is known as mehadrin min ha-mehadrin, and is achieved when each member of the household (or perhaps at least one member of each household) lights one candle on the first night, two on the second night, and so on.

While we are familiar with the concept of hiddur mitzva, beautifying the commandments, from several other areas of law (most notably the laws of the four species taken on Succot), such an idea is generally seen as being an optional level of performance open to those who want to take advantage of a higher standard, but not required of everyone.

Chanukah, however, presents us with a unique situation. It is virtually a universal practice for people to fulfill the commandment to light the candles in the manner known as mehadrin min ha-mehadrin, in the best way possible. Why is this so?

Perhaps the answer lies in a fact that reveals the true nature of Chanukah. Every other holiday on the calendar has some basis in scripture. Even Purim, which, like Chanukah, is a Rabbinically-ordained festival, nevertheless has its own Megilla found in Tanach which is read on that day. Chanukah alone lacks a basis in the Bible. As such, it is a holiday that rests on a foundation made entirely of Rabbinic enactments. It is for this very reason that we light mehadrin min ha-mehadrin on Chanukah. Whereas by Purim we publicize the miracle du jour by reading Megillat Esther, by Chanukah our comparable expression of thanks and joy must come through the Oral Law and not the Written Law. Thus, it has become commonplace to follow the highest standards set out by the Rabbis in the Oral Law as a means of relating to the very texts that provide us with out source for the holiday.

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