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Shabbos Chanukah 5758 - '97

Outline Vol. 2, # 9

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 2 # 3

Shabbos Chanukah

This issue has been dedicated in the memory of Louis Fishman by his niece.

The Beis Yoseif asked the famous question: Why eight days of Chanukah? Granted that the Menorah burned for eight days, the first day wasn't a miracle. There was enough oil for one day. Chanukah ought to be celebrated seven days, because the oil miraculously burned for seven additional days.

In answering this question, the Alter of Kelm discussed a fundamental teaching.

Rabbi Chaninah Ben Dosa once found his daughter unhappy. She explained that she had accidentally switched a container of vinegar for oil, and had kindled the vinegar for the Shabbos light. "Don't worry," he said. "The One Who made the oil light, will make the vinegar light." The candles burned the entire Shabbos. (Taanis 28a.)

This story is often taught as a demonstration of the power of faith. The Alter of Kelm, however, saw something different here. Rabbi Chaninah Ben Dosa didn't say, "The vinegar will light," but "Just as oil lights, so vinegar can light." The fact that oil burns, is in itself miraculous.

The first day of Chanukah celebrates that the oil burned the first day. We recognize that all of life is, in itself, a miraculous phenomenon. Ramban states that there are "hidden miracles" -- which appear through the medium of nature -- and "open miracles" -- which defy nature. "Anyone who does not believe that everything that happens to us is miraculous, has no share in Torah." (Ramban, end of parshas Bo.)

This is the intention of the brocha: "Who performed miracles for our fathers in those days at this time..." "At this time," alludes to the constant miracles that we ourselves benefit from each and every day. (See Chochmah Umussar, vol. 1, pp. 110 -130)

Kriyas Yam Suf and the Ba'al Shem Tov

The Ba'al Shem Tov said something similar. Once, a student cried before the Ba'al Shem Tov, saying that he had lost faith. What had caused the problem? He had heard a scientific explanation of the Splitting of the Sea. Since the story of the miraculous phenomena of the Splitting of the Sea is very basic to Judaism, he felt that his simple faith had been jeopardized. In a drasha, the Ba'al Shem Tov showed from the Talmud that the scientific description of the Splitting of the Sea was, in fact, correct. What, then, was the indication from the Splitting of the Sea of Hashem's constant, miraculous guidance of nature? The fact that the sea split just as the Jewish People were entering, and returned to its former state as soon as the Jews left. (Ba'al Shem Tov Al Hatorah, parshas Beshalach.)

We find almost identical words from the Alter of Kelm, in his description of Purim. "Initially, we thought that the world continues according to nature -- not for the benefit of the Jewish People. Finally, we see that -- although the world continues according to nature -- it is for our benefit..."


There appears to be a difficulty in the words of the Ba'al Shem Tov. Purim is generally understood to be the epitome of the "hidden miracle," which appears through the medium of nature. The Splitting of the Sea, however, is the epitome of the "open miracle" which defies nature. Yet, the Ba'al Shem Tov explained that the Splitting of the Sea had a scientific description!


From our opening words, however, we now understand. The Alter of Kelm showed that the Chanukah candles commemorate both the natural miracle and the supernatural miracle. Through the natural phenomenon of the kindling of the oil on the first day, came an amazing miracle: the oil lasted for the eight days for which it was needed. In a similar manner, the Ba'al Shem Tov would explain the Splitting of the Sea. Yes, it was an open miracle, but it came about through something ordinary, which could be explained scientifically. The Splitting itself could be seen as something natural; the fact that it split just in time to save the Jewish People is inexplicable.

The Need to Give Thanks

In the second volume of Chochmah Umussar, the Alter reiterates this philosophy. The outcome of such thinking -- he writes -- is the necessity to be grateful for everything that happens. There should be little difference between "good" occurrences and "bad" ones, because life is entirely miraculous. "A person is obligated to make a brocha on the `bad' just as he is obligated on the `good.' " (Brochos 33b)

The Candles

Last week, we discussed the question: why, specifically, was the miracle of the candles chosen to commemorate? The Alter answered with the above: Chanukah is the special time for gratitude, as the davening mentions, "They established these eight days in order to give thanks and to praise..." Now is an especially appropriate time to recognize the constant gratitude we need to express. The candles were chosen, for the Menorah represents the connection between the everyday miracles of life, and the open miracles which defy nature.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Kollel of Kiryas Radin
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156

Good Shabbos!



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