So Junior continues to be troubled by halachic problems cropping up in hadlakas neiros. Before, it was that I wasn't saying Adoshem and Elokeinu, as he had been taught in pre-K, but rather Adonai Eloheinu.
But more recently, he was troubled by other problems with his candle-menorah, which he built himself.
The first problem was that he had been taught that a kosher menorah has all the lights at the same level, not with one higher than the other. (He had a worksheet where he had to circle all the non-kosher menorahs.) And yet, ten minutes into the lighting, some candles were shorter than others, because different heat in different areas melted them at different rates. So he was upset that his menorah was not kosher.
My on-the-spot answer, to comfort him, was that the bottoms of the candles were all at the same level, even though the tops were not. (His uncle suggested a contraption which would automatically adjust the candles based on weight, so the tops instead would remain ordered.) And furthermore, hadlaka osah mitzvah, so at the time he lit they were all in order. He was not entirely persuaded, and I am not sure I am either.
I have not researched this halachic point sufficiently, but I did research it a bit further. Need they actually be at the exact same height. Halachic works discuss lighting candles for menorah, so they must have encountered this phenomenon at some point. Does anyone note this? I don't know.
But while I have seen many informal statements that the candles must be the same height when they are in their row (e.g. here and here), I do not see this at all in the Rama, in Mishnah Berurah, or in Aruch Hashulchan. Does anyone have any classic standard source for this requirement, or is it just a (possibly incorrect) extrapolation from what is stated.
What we do have is a statement that they should not be arranged in a circle, because that looks like a medurah (bonfire). And we have the Rama (and in Darkei Moshe and Maharil) saying that (by extension) ולכן יש לזהר להעמיד הנרות בשורה בשוה.
Looking in the Rama in Darkei Moshe, it becomes clear, in his citing of Maharil, and of his citing of Hagahot Maimoniyot citing Semak, that "in a row" is the opposite of in a circle. As Darkei Moshe cites, it was a case of echad yotzei veEchad nichnas, such that it was like a medurah. The idea here is that the lights were not in a row, in terms of depth, not in terms of height, and it was the varying depths that some people found problematic.
And this is how Beer Heitiv explains the word beShaveh in the Rama, as an issue of depth rather than of height.
From the wording of the Mishnah Brurah (seif katan 15), it really appears that he does not consider it to be non-kosher. Rather, it is almost like a gezeira. He writes היינו שלעשות אחד נכנס ואחד יוצא גם כן אינו כדאי שלא יבא לעשות כעיגול. The wording that it is not kedai, such that one does not come to make it in a circle, implies that that is just a way of ensuring this other end. And it is also clear from his words that he knows this means depth.
Meanwhile, the Aruch Hashulchan (the end of seif 12) also records the idea that it should be in a shura, which he also defines as depth -- אחד נכנס ואחד יוצא. But his reason is that someone should not think that each one is a davar bifnei atzmo.
But I do not see any definition of this as having varying heights. Perhaps this is explicit elsewhere where I haven't seen (and have not seen cited). Or perhaps it is an extrapolation. But is the extrapolation correct? With varying depths, it starts to approach being arranged in a circle, if that is indeed the concern (and indeed that is what it seems, looking at the early sources of this). But this will not be if the candles are on different levels, either at the top or at the bottom.
On the other hand, if the concern is like Aruch Hashulchan, that they look like each is a separate thing, then perhaps one could apply it here. But this type of concern is extremely subject to the metzius. See the discussion about lamps (lampa), and distance between one and the other, and whether there are concerns one we add a mitigating factor of partitions between lights, and so on and so forth. In a single chanukkiah, even if the bottoms were not lined up, perhaps it is clear that they all of one person, and do not look like a medurah. And certainly if the bottoms are lined up, and they are all in a row, but just the flames do not correspond to one another -- everyone knows that they are all of one person.
But if there is any source I am missing here -- e.g. discussions of the bottoms not lined up -- please comment, and help me out.
Junior's second problem was that despite putting more tiles to elevate the shamash, it ended up either parallel to the other candles, or even lower. He thought it always had to be higher. I told him lower was not a problem. I am not sure about when it is on the same level (again, because of varying heat levels causing varying melting rates; but also because you use the shamash to light, it is lit longer, and also melts faster because you hold it horizontally rather than vertically). But we gave a taller candle for the shamash, apart from the base differential, and the resulting menorah looked much nicer. Does anyone have any insights into this issue?
Note: Not intended halacha lemaaseh, but just exploring a halachic topic. Consult your local Orthodox rabbi for any practical guidance.