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CHANUKAH (PARASHAT MIKETZ) 5758
What is Chanukah all about? Our Sages taught: On the 25th day of Kislev begin the eight days of Chanukah; one may not mourn or fast on these days. [The holiday was instituted because] when the Greeks entered the Holy Temple they defiled all of the oil reserves of the Temple. When the Hasmonean kings overpowered them and conquered them, they found but one jar of oil that remained sealed with the mark of the High Priest (denoting that it was not defiled), which contained enough oil to light the Menorah (golden candelabra) of the Temple for but one night. Miraculously, the oil sufficed to light the Menorah for a full eight days. The following year, the Sages accorded these days permanent holiday status, during which we praise Hashem with the "Hallel" prayer and thank Him [through reciting the "Al ha'Nisim" prayer -Rashi] (Gemara, Shabbos 21b)
We are taught that the holiday of Chanukah commemorates the fact that the Menorah miraculously burned for eight days on a quantity of oil normally enough for just one night. On the other hand, the Al ha'Nisim prayer -- recited throughout the eight days of Chanukah in order to commemorate the historic events upon which the holiday is based -- indicates that the holiday has an entirely different theme. In this prayer, we express our gratitude to Hashem for saving the insignificant Jewish forces from the mighty Greek army and for allowing us to regain control of the Holy Temple. There is no mention at all of the miracle of the lights! Why does the Gemara downplay the Jewish victory and put its entire emphasis on the miraculous lights, while the Al ha'Nisim prayer accents the victory over the Greek forces?
Many generations of Torah scholars have puzzled over these questions, but Rav Aryeh Pomeranchik, in his work "Emek Berachah" (Jerusalem 1942), suggests a clear and simple solution.
Miracles can be divided into two categories. Some miracles effect a change in the natural process of things, but they do not have a direct bearing on people. Others bring about the salvation of a person, or an entire nation, from their enemies. Similarly, there are two types of blessings that are recited on experiences. One is "Birkat ha'Shevach," or blessings recited in praise of the Almighty. These are recited after seeing an awe-inspiring display of Hashem's power and glory, such as upon seeing a bolt of lightning or experiencing an earthquake. The other is "Birkat ha'Hoda'ah," or blessings recited out of thanks to Hashem. These are recited after one receives an unexpected physical or monetary benefit, such as stumbling upon a great fortune or being saved from tragedy.
It is immediately clear that only the second miracle -- that of the Jewish salvation -- calls for us to *thank* Hashem. We are indebted to Hashem for protecting us and freeing us from our oppressors. The other type of miracle, though imposing, does not call for us to thank Hashem since we did not derive physical or monetary benefit from it. Instead, it invokes us to *praise* Hashem, Who has demonstrated his sovereignty over all that exists.
Chanukah saw both types of miracles. On the one hand, the lights of the Menorah miraculously remained lit for eight days. Aside from that entirely, Hashem miraculously granted the outnumbered and inexperienced impromptu Jewish army a victory over the mighty Greek forces. *Thanks* are appropriate for the second of these two miracles. That is why we only mention that part of Chanukah when thanking Hashem in the Al ha'Nisim prayer. We commemorate the other miracle in an entirely different manner. We light candles in prominent places, in order to draw people's attention to miracle that occurred, that they may thereby realize Hashem's omnipotence and *praise* Hashem.
This explains why the miracle of the lights is not discussed in the Al ha'Nisim prayer, but why is no accent put on the miracle of the salvation in the Gemara's account? After all, the Gemara is not discussing the Mitzvah to light candles on Chanukah; the source for its citation is Megilat Ta'anit, a compilation meant simply to record the sources and dates of Jewish holidays and days of rejoicing.
The answer to this, Emek Berachah explains, is that Megilat Ta'anit felt the need to explain why we rejoice for *eight days* on Chanukah, and not just for one day, as is the case with all the other days of rejoicing it records. It answers that on Chanukah, the Menorah miraculously burned for eight days with but one day's worth of fuel, and in order to commemorate this we celebrate Chanukah for an entire eight days.
But this is not the entire solution. The Gemara that we cited at the start of our discussion clearly associates the Al ha'Nisim prayer (and Hallel) to the miracle of the Menorah. In fact, it is obvious that there is some relationship between the two. Otherwise, it would suffice for us to say the Al ha'Nisim prayer, in which we thank Hashem for our victory over the Greeks, on the first day of Chanukah alone. Why do we thank Hashem for our salvation throughout the entire eight days, if days 2-8 were only meant to commemorate the miracle of the lights and not the miracle of the salvation?
Although the salvation was truly miraculous, its impressiveness was clothed in natural circumstances. The Jews fought against the Greeks with sword and spear; battles were waged and lives were lost. It is true that one would not have expected the Jews to win the war, but stubborn disbelievers could still deny Hashem's involvement in the salvation of His nation.
The miracle of the lights which immediately followed the war, an undeniable display of Hashem's power, revealed that Hashem's Hand was driving the outcome of the war all along. Thus, aside from being a miracle in its own right, the burning Menorah gave us cause to praise Hashem for all that had transpired up until then. The eight-day miracle of the *Menorah* bids us to thank Hashem for an entirely *different* miracle which it drives home -- for miraculously bringing about a salvation from our Greek oppressors. For this reason, it is appropriate to thank Hashem for the salvation as long as the Menorah's lights still burned.
Rav Yitzchak Goldwasser (in his recent "Shir u'Renanim," Bnei Brak 1997), among others, suggests that it is indeed appropriate for Hashem to have demonstrated His presence in the Jewish salvation through a miracle that involved the incessant burning of the Menorah. The Gemara tells us that when Hashem was pleased with the actions of His nation, one of the seven lamps of the Menorah would miraculously burn for 24 hours -- instead of the normal 12 hours -- in order to demonstrate that Hashem's Divine Presence dwelled among His people. The fire of the Menorah would make clear to all that the figurative "fire of Hashem" ("Hashem your G-d is a burning fire" - Devarim 4:24; Ketuvot 111b) rested with His people. Similarly, the incessant burning of the Menorah after the victory against the Greeks was meant to demonstrate that Hashem's presence, that dwelled with the Jews, brought about the victory.
We may add our own insight to that observation. When Moshe was sent to free the Jews from their Egyptian bondage, Hashem appeared to him in a fire that was seen to burn without using up its supply of fuel (i.e., without devouring the bush in which it raged). According to the Midrash (Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer #40), this was meant to symbolize that "the wicked will not extinguish the flames of the righteous, which are their fear of heaven and their good deeds." Similarly, the flame of the burning Menorah demonstrated that Hashem did not let the righteous, who defied the Greek idolaters' evil decrees, succumb to the evildoers in battle.
It is interesting to note that, as pointed out in "Nifla'os mi'Toratecha" (Rav Mordechai Aran, 1997), in the incident of the burning bush the Torah tells us, "Hashem saw that Moshe turned to see [the marvel of the bush], and He called out to him from the bush ['Ki Sar Lir'os, Vayikra'] and said..." (Shemos 3:4). These four words provide the only incidence in the Torah of consecutive words which spell, by acronym, the word, "Kislev," or the name of the month in which the Chanukah miracle took place!
May Hashem light up our Chanukah, and show to all His Presence as He did in years past!
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