What Do We Do With The Wicks?
by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein
As Chanukah draws to a close, and we prepare to light our final Chanukah candles, we notice that the area of the Menorah is scattered with oil, wax, wicks and other items used in the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah. I thought it would be a good idea to look at some of the halachos regarding what to do with items that were used for a mitzvah, once we no longer have a use for them because we have completed the mitzvah they were used for.
The Shulchan Aruch writes that if a man’s Tzitzis strings snap, he may discard them in the garbage. On this the Rema comments that the minhag in Ashkenaz is not to throw out any items used for a mitzvah and that one should not discard them in a way that is a “bizayon,” a disgrace, for them. The Mishna Berura points out that this will apply in any situation that an item is either no longer usable (like the snapped Tzitzis strings) or that the mitzvah is completed. He therefore lists several examples of such items including schach after Succos, the lulav and esrog, an old shofar – even the walls of a succah – that should not be thrown directly in the garbage, but rather should be wrapped up before being put into the dumpster, or placed by the side of the dumpster so that we are not throwing it out directly. The later Sefaradi poskim [the Ben Ish Chai and Kaf HaChaim] agree with the Rema and say that Sefaradim too should be careful not to treat such items in a disgraceful way.
When it comes to the leftover candles, wicks and oil on Chanukah, the halacha is as follows:
– Leftover wicks at the end of Chanukah should either be wrapped up before being discarded or burnt in a fire that one does not get any benefit from. While the halachic requirement is filled by simply burning the wicks, there are some customs regarding the burning of these wicks. Chassidim make a whole ceremony out of burning the leftover oil after Chanukah while singing the perek from Tehillim “Laminatzeich Baneginos.” Others keep the wicks and burn them together with their chametz several months later.
– Leftover oil that was from the candles that were lit has the following halachos: If there was just enough oil to burn for the actual mitzvah, meaning enough oil for the candle to burn for 30 minutes after tzeis hakochavim, and the candles burned out in the middle, that oil may only be used again for the Chanukah candles during that Chanukah. If there is such oil left over after the last night, it too must be burned like the wicks above. If one put more oil than was absolutely necessary for the mitzvah (as is usually the case), one should make “a tenai” – a halachic stipulation, that only the oil necessary for the actual zman of the mitzvah should become sanctified. If one made such a stipulation and the candles always burned past the minimum zman of the mitzvah, the remaining oil may be discarded in the garbage regularly. If one did not make such a stipulation, there is a machlokes in the poskim what to do with the remaining oil. One should either ask a shailoh or simply burn it like the wicks are burned. [Wrapping oil and discarding it may also be done, but it must be wrapped in such a way that the oil does not leak out of the wrapping. Therefore, for liquid oil, burning is the better solution.]
– Leftover wax or not fully burned wax candles have the same status as the oil. One should stipulate that only the minimum amount should be sanctified, and the rest may be discarded.
– Oil left in the bottle that was never poured into the candles, or wax candles that were left in the box and never lit may be discarded, as they were never involved in the mitzvah at all. Likewise, the matches or candles used to light the Chanukah candles may be discarded in the regular fashion.
– Some poskim maintain that all these halachos pertain also to the candles and oil lit by a child that has reached the age of chinuch.
I will end with one last interesting halacha. There are those who are careful with the leftover wicks from Shabbos candles as well. While there are many poskim who recommend this practice, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l maintained that one may throw out the leftover oil, candles or wicks from the Shabbos candles. Unlike the Chanukah candles where the candles themselves are the actual mitzvah, the mitzvah of Shabbos candles is to provide light. The candles, wicks and oil are the way in which we do that, but they themselves do not become sanctified as objects of kedusha in the process.
Wishing you a Chodesh Tov and a wonderful end to your Chanukah.