K A H A N EThe magazine of the authentic Jewish Idea
November – December 1988 Cheshvan – Kislev 5749
Eight days of Chanukah. That is the, length of the holiday as pronounced by the rabbis and the reason is known to every child: The Maccabees, having liberated the temple, found oil that was sufficient only for one day but having lit the candles with it, the oil continued to burn through eight days, by which time more pure oil had been made.
And centuries ago, the rabbis asked the question: Nevertheless, why eight days? Since the oil was naturally sufficient in itself to burn for one day, the miracle was actually only in the additional seven days that it continued to burn. In reality, therefore, in order to commemorate the miracle, the rabbis should have established a holiday of seven days.
And the rabbis, particularly the Beit Yosef, give various and varied reasons. It appears to me, however, that there is a fundamental reason, one that goes to the very heart of the holiday of Chanukah.
It is clear that the essential miracle of Chanukah, its real central theme, is not the miracle of the oil. Indeed, the special Chanukah prayer, Al Hanism, coined by the rabbis, does not even mention the miracle of the oil. The theme and heart of the Chanukah commemoration is the concept mentioned in Al Hanisim, of rabim b’yad m’atim, “The many (Syrian Greeks) who fell into the hands of the few (Jews).” This is the heart of Chanukah. And the very miracle of the oil represents that concept, i.e. the little oil able to “overcome” the many days and continue to burn. The oil symbolizes the real miracle of Chanukah, the real theme, that of the few Jews who, thanks to the miracle of G-d, were able to overcome the many enemies.
But if that is so, there is a miracle within that miracle. For given the fact that the few Jews were able to miraculously overcome their many awesome enemies, prior to that miracle they surely did not know that the almighty would perform the miracle for them.
And nevertheless, the few went out to battle with immense faith and belief in the Almighty. Not that they knew that He would perform miracles for them, for that is not the meaning of faith. One does not go to battle in a milchemet mitzvah, a war of obligation, because one knows that G-d will help. The Jew hopes for that; he prays for that; but there is no guarantee. If there were, then there would be no faith. Then the victory would be assured and in such a case and everyone would have “faith.”
No, the Hashmonaim, the Maccabees, did not know whether G-d would perform miracles for them. The only knew that they were obligated to fight and sanctify the Name of the
L-rd, G-d of Israel, through fighting the gentiles and Hellenists who desecrated and humiliated Him. That in itself was an act of immense courage, a miracle within the miracle.
And so, since the candles lights represent the miracle of the many who fell before the few, they must also represent that act of the few who – not knowing that the miracle would take place – nevertheless went out to battle to sanctify G-d. And so, while the lights from the second day onward represent the miracle of the many who fell in the hands of the few, it is just as important to commemorate the few who went out to battle with faith and readiness to give of themselves. That is represented by the first light.
What a lesson of Chanukah! What a lesson for all Jews “in this time” whose fear of Washington and the gentiles makes a mockery of the faith and belief that is the heart of Chanukah and Judaism.
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