The Miracle of Hanukah
The miracle of Hanukah was one of the greatest miracles known by the Jewish people. It was so great that our Sages devoted a special holiday for it. It is a holiday in which we recite neither funerals eulogies nor supplications, and during which time we honor the daily Torah readings by reciting the passages dealing with the offerings of the leaders of Israel during the inauguration of the Altar in the desert.
It is fitting to take note of the miracle that took place during the era of the second Temple. The Greeks at that time had dominion over the Children of Israel, and obligated them to renounce their faith and to turn away from their practices. The Eternal came to their aid at a time of suffering. He gave strength and courage to the Children of Israel who had to fight a powerful army, an army of hundreds of thousands of men, soldiers that were battle-hardened and heavily armed. The Children of Israel, who were then weak and few in number, almost destitute of weapons, prevailed over their enemies. The Greeks suffered a terrible defeat and took to flight. As for the Children of Israel, they began to repent and applied themselves to observe Torah and mitzvot, to respect Shabbat and the laws of family purity, to wear Tefillin, and to publicly proclaim the holiness of Rosh Chodesh, without any shame or fear.
It was a great miracle, and we should well ask ourselves how it is that our Sages chose to celebrate Hanukah, meaning to say the inauguration of the purified Temple and the remembrance of the flask of pure oil, oil that had been miraculously found by the priests in the Temple and had allowed the Menorah to be lit once again. In fact, it is surprising to note that the Sages did not institute any festival to commemorate the extraordinary military victory of the Children of Israel over the Greeks. We may also be surprised to note that Hashem desired this miracle of the flask that burned eight hours instead of one. Was it not enough for the many to have been chased away by the few, the strong by the weak, and the impure by the pure? Did this last miracle not already constitute a great sanctification of G-d’s name? Why then did Hashem perform for them the miracle of the flask of oil that burned eight days instead of one (eight days being the time required to prepare new oil to keep the Menorah lit)? Was this miracle so important that Hashem judged it useful to perform it in addition to the miracle of the military victory?
Moreover, because of the miracle of the flask of oil, the Sages gave no importance to the miracle of the military victory over the Greeks!
In addition, we should ask ourselves why this holiday is called Hanukah. Even if we recall that the word Hanukah (%,&1() is derived from Hanu (&1() and Kah (%,), %, having the numerical value of 25 – “they found rest (&1() on the twenty-fifth (%,) of Kislev” – the question is not fully answered, for we plainly see that the other holidays (Passover Shavuot, Sukkot, Purim, etc.) are not named after their dates, but rather by the events that they commemorate! Why then is this holiday the exception and designated by its date rather than by the event that it celebrates?
I have thought it appropriate to explain the following statement of our Sages, of blessed memory: “The ignoramus cannot be pious.” In effect, a man who has not studied Torah and who ignores its worth, even if he performs the Divine commandments, will not be able to perform them with love, as does someone who looks to accomplish the will of his Creator. In fact, when a man accomplishes the commandments in order to be relieved of his religious duties, he does so as taught. Yet come the day when he will not want to perform the commandments, and it will be then that he may transgress them without regret afterwards. In actuality, he is ignorant of the authentic value of these commandments, and for him they mean nothing.
For example, a man who understands the value of money and knows just how difficult it is to earn will automatically not waste any of it that was hard-earned, for he knows its worth. However for one who doesn’t understand the value of money, just as he has acquired it with ease, likewise will he squander it with ease.
The Children of Israel saw the great miracles that the Holy One, blessed be He, performed for them against the ungodly Greeks. The latter were very cruel, for they had killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, and they tried to uproot the Jews’ faith in their Creator. They did this in order that the Jews become assimilated to their culture and live in ignorance of the Master and Creator of the world. Almost all the Children of Israel became Hellenized and influenced by Greek culture. They forgot that they were Jews and began to imitate Greek ways, for the Greeks had killed most of the righteous of that generation and left few remaining. Therefore there was no one from whom the Children of Israel could draw a spiritual example. At first, the rebellion against those ungodly men, who had strength on their side, consisted of a handful of righteous men. They fought the Greeks and eventually conquered them (as for the rest of the Greeks who survived, they fled from Jerusalem). Thus the Divine Name was sanctified among the Children of Israel, and the peoples of the earth and the entire world knew there was a G-d in Israel Who protects and guards them, as it is written: “The Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.”
The Sages did not want to celebrate the miracle of the military victory because they feared that the Children of Israel would turn this solemn observance into a day that celebrates their strength against the Greeks. The Sages feared that the Children of Israel would forget that it was Hashem Who had come to their aid. Such a commemoration would only have led to mistaken concepts for the generations to come, for we would have surely forgotten even the essence of the miracle.
During the time of the Hasmoneans, the Children of Israel were entirely removed from Judaism. They were almost completely Hellenized. A holiday that would have commemorated military victories would have made them forget, after a few years, that it was Hashem Who had come and rescued them. Without doubt, they would have in the end attributed their victory to their own strength and intelligence. A man without Torah doesn’t understand the value of this. He doesn’t realize that he owes all of his success to his Creator.
The Sages desired, therefore, that the celebration of this miracle be related to something spiritual, not material. This was done in order that credit for the victory be attributed to Hashem only, and also that its memory be perpetuated forever. In fact, had the Sages not related the holiday to a spiritual miracle, we would have ended up by forgetting the miracle of the military victory, or we would have attributed it to the strength and intelligence of the people. Because of what the Sages did, however, the remembrance of an entirely spiritual miracle that was performed solely by G-d will always remain indelibly engraved in the memory of the Jewish people. We will always remember that G-d is present, ensuring that the light of Judaism is never extinguished.
This is why the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the day when the Children of Israel rid themselves of their enemies (and above all, the rapid assimilation that threatened them), was proclaimed a holiday. Beginning from that day, even those among them that had become assimilated began to repent. The Hasmoneans began to purify the Temple, and through this action the hearts of the Children of Israel also became purified. The more the Hasmoneans cleaned and purified the Beit Hamikdash of the impurities and the idolatry found therein, the more the hearts of the Children of Israel came closer to Hashem and rid themselves of the assimilation that they had been impregnated with.
Hashem then saw the efforts of the Children of Israel and the difficulties of the Hasmoneans, who found themselves without oil to light the Menorah. The Hasmoneans realized that in the same way that the Temple had been purified, the Children of Israel had also, they themselves, reached the level of the Tzaddikim. Yet they still lacked a flame, meaning the Divine forces that irresistibly lead to Hashem. The Greeks had influenced them so much, and the people had been rendered so ignorant and so devoid of mitzvot, that the Hasmoneans feared that everything was but a burning ember that would extinguish itself soon afterwards. A man without Torah has great trouble in facing this world.
The Hasmoneans therefore looked for pure oil, oil that had the power to maintain this flame during the time that it took the Children of Israel to once again inculcate the Torah within themselves and face the trials of this world. Let us note that the word Hashemen – 0/:% (“oil”) – is composed of the letters as the word Neshama – %/:1 (“soul”) – the same as the word Shemona – %1/: (“eight”) – which relates to the eight days of Hanukah.
The discovery of the flask of pure oil came and confirmed to the Hasmoneans that Hashem Himself ensured that the flame that had been lit in the hearts of the Children of Israel would never be extinguished.
Hashem, addressing Himself to the Children of Israel, said to them: “Open for me a door like the eye of a needle, and I will open for you doors as wide as those of a palace.” It is therefore by Divine will that on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the Children of Israel found true rest by the discovery of this flask of pure oil. This is why the holiday is called Hanukah, for on this day, the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the Children of Israel found a way that allowed them to advance with their own strength in the path of the Torah.
This is why the holiday of Hanukah was instituted for the generations to come, in order that from year to year we may arouse in ourselves an awakening against wicked thoughts and foreign influences that seek to overwhelm us.
By the merit of the light of Hanukah, the obscurity that attempts to take over man’s heart will disappear. Thus, in publicly displaying our lights to the world, we will eliminate the influences of foreign civilizations from ourselves, as did our ancestors during the time of the Hasmoneans.
May it be G-d’s desire to always illuminate our path, in order that we may continually serve Him in reverence and with all our strength. Amen.