Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green
The holiday of Chanukah is celebrated partly in commemoration of a military
victory against the oppressive Syrian Greek kingdom which was dominating
the Jews in Israel. When the war was decisively won, the Jews entered the
ransacked Holy Temple and searched for oil which was still sealed in ritual
purity by the High Priest. One such container was found, enough for one
day, and when used it miraculously burned for eight days until more of the
same oil could be obtained.
There is a very famous question which is asked regarding our observance of
Chanukah. If the container of oil which was found contained enough for one
day's lighting, then the miracle was really only seven days, and not eight
as is commonly held. Why then do we make a holiday eight days long? There
are many answers given for this question. The Sefer HaTodaah enumerates
several answers which are offered.
1) The first day is not a celebration of the oil miraculously burning, but
rather a celebration of being victorious in the war.
2) The cups of the menorah (candelabra) miraculously remained full with oil
even after burning overnight. Hence, the miracle took place even on the
3) The dominating oppressors decreed against the observance of three
commandments given in the Torah: Sabbath Observance, Circumcision, and the
establishment of the Jewish Calendar according to the new moon. This of
course, was an effort to abolish all Jewish Holidays which are scheduled
throughout the year on given days in the Lunar calendar.
As a celebration that we fought for these commandments and won, we observe
Chanukah for eight days just like circumcision which takes place on the
eighth day of a baby's life. In addition, somewhere in a period of eight
days a Sabbath day will come out - sometimes even twice. Lastly, Chanukah
begins on the 25th of the month of Kislev. The beginning of the new month
of Teves also falls within the eight days of Chanukah. Consequently, the
eight-day observance of Chanukah which contains all of the commandments
which the oppressors decreed against, serves to nullify the decrees
4) The Greeks told the Jews to write on the horns of their bulls the words
"we have no portion in the G-d of Israel". Repeatedly seeing this, the
Greeks correctly reasoned, while working behind their bulls, would make its
impression on the Jews. The Greeks wanted the Jews to embrace the notion
that everything is a function of "nature"; that there is no G-d.
In response to this G-d gave a miracle to the Jews who fought and remained
loyal to Him. The oil burned in a supernatural manner - for eight days.
G-d's message to them was that the fact that oil burns at all is
miraculous. G-d is behind nature. Everything is a miracle. The fact that
some of G-d's miracles are consistent and predictable such as any oil
burning, does not detract from their being a miracle. "Nature" is a word
which disguises the truth which is that there is "Someone" behind nature.
5) Lastly, the Jews used their only container of oil on the first day they
had the chance to do so. They knew they had nothing left for tomorrow, and
they knew that the Torah prescribes lighting the Menorah daily, but they
did not despair of lighting with it immediately. They reasoned "in whatever
way we can fulfill G-d's word now, we will do so." This is the miracle
which has truly sustained us throughout the generations. We place our trust
in G-d, and we try our best to fulfill His word against all odds. G-d has
not disappointed us, for although we have suffered, we and our Torah are
still flourishing, and our oppressors have been humbled, or have
disappeared entirely. Kein Yirbu!
Chanukah is a time to remind ourselves that we have an eternal bond with the
Creator of the universe. He takes interest in each and every one of us, and
He loves us more than we can imagine. We come from very great and elevated
people whose actions found favor with G-d, and we have the potential to
follow in their footsteps. The path to doing so is through prayer, Torah
learning, and effort in following the commandments. G-d will surely reward
our efforts and we will merit to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
Good Shabbos and Happy Chanukah!
Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.