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Which Comes First?

12/02/2021 04:17:57 PM


One of the more advanced cognitive tasks that human beings must perform, starting when we are young children, is called “sequencing”- determining which steps in a process or a story must come first, second, third, last. In order to engage in sequencing, one must be able to understand the consequences and relative importance of different actions. Sequencing isn’t so easy for adults either. Franklin Covey and dozens of executive coaches and planners devote a lot of attention to helping their advisees determine how to prioritize and structure tasks. 

This shabbat, which is the Shabbat of Hanukkah, but also the beginning of the new Hebrew month, posts a unique twist on that reality.  One is in the Torah readings.  This shabbat morning we read from three different Torah scrolls- in addition to the regular weekly portion, there are also portions for the new month, and for Hanukkah, each read from a different scroll. But which one comes first? 

The sages decided that the relevant principle in this case is  is “Tadir V’eino Tadir, Tadir Kodem”- we read the more common, normal reading first, and then proceed to the unusual or out of the ordinary. So the weekly reading, about Joseph, comes first, then the monthly Rosh Hodesh reading, and only then the special passage for Hanukkah.

Sometimes, however, this principle is eclipsed by other priorities. So, for example, on Saturday night of Hanukkah, the custom is to do Havdallah first, and then light the Hanukkah candles. This order makes sense, since Havdallah is the more common ritual. 

However, in other cases, a different principle applies- so, for example, on Friday night, we light the Hanukkah candles before the Shabbat candles, since we should not be lighting other candles once shabbat has started. The holiness of shabbat trumps the normal order.

And yet, there are circumstances where both of these principles are overruled. In synagogue, we light the Hanukkah candles before Javdallah, (just the opposite of what we do at home) so that those present have the opportunity to enjoy the light of the menorah for a few minutes during Havdallah.

Deciding among competing priorities is one of the hardest tests we face. Our tradition offers us the structure to do that sequencing. While the questions of which scroll to read from next, or which candle to light may not seem earth shattering, we face much bigger questions of priority- how do we make time for work, family and self?  How do we balance concern for our own community with the needs of the larger world? The answer of our tradition is that we must eventually get to it all, it is just a question of order.

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784