Chanukah

According to the way the story of Chanukah is told in the Talmud, Shabbat 21b, after the Jews were successful in their revolt against the Assyrian-Greeks, they went back to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), to the Beit Hamikdash (The Temple), and they saw that the Beit Hamikdash had been defiled by the Assyrian-Greeks. They purified the Beit Hamikdash and then began to search to find oil to light the Menorah, seven-branched candelabra, which was used in the religious experience of the Beit Hamikdash. They eventually found one container of oil that still had the seal of the Kohain Gadol (High Priest) on it, but there was only enough oil in the flask that was found to last one day. As we know, a miracle happened and the amount of oil that was only supposed to last one day lasted for eight days. As a result, we celebrate Chanukah by lighting the Chanukiah (the special eight-branched Menorah used on Chanukah) for eight days.

The Beit Yosef, a commentator on the Tur, and Shulchan Aruch (two of the most important Jewish Legal Codes) asks an interesting question in Orech Chayim 670. Why is Chanukah eight days long? The miracle of the oil was really seven days, not eight. The Maccabees found one container of oil that was enough for one day. Therefore, Chanukah should be celebrated for seven days, not eight? Seven lights for seven nights, not eight?

I would like to suggest the following. The first day of Chanukah is our miracle; it celebrates human miracles, all of the human miracles of the Chanukah story. The human miracle of the Maccabees choosing to revolt. The human miracle, of the Maccabees choosing to return to the Beit Hamikdash and purify it. Lastly, the miracle of looking for and finding the container of oil. The next seven days of Chanukah celebrate God’s miracle. When we take one step towards God, God takes many steps towards us. In this case it is seven steps, but potentially God can take infinite steps toward us.

It is interesting Dreidels (a four sided spinning top played with on Chanukah) in the Diaspora have the letters Nun, Gimel, Hey and Shin. Nes Gadol Hayah Sham. A great miracle happened there. Dreidels in Israel have the letters, Nun, Gimel, Hey and Pey. Nes Gadol Hayah Poe, A great miracle happened here. When we understand that we can join with God to make a miracle happen anywhere in the world. That in that moment we are saying, a great miracle is happening here, right now.