"What is Chanukah? On the 25th of Kislev..." (Shabbat 21b)
QUESTION: Why did the miracle of Chanukah take place on the 25th of Kislev?
In the wilderness, the construction of the Mishkan
was completed on the 25th of Kislev
. Hashem told Moshe to wait with the dedication till the auspicious day of Rosh Chodesh Nissan
. The 25th of Kislev
was somewhat offended. To appease her, the rededication of the second Beit Hamikdash
, in the days of the Hasmoneans, took place on the 25th of Kislev
It is interesting to note that the words zot chanukat hamizbeiach (Bamidbar 7:84) — "this is the dedication of the altar" — which refer to the Mishkan (and are part of the Torah reading for Chanukah), have the numerical value of 954, which is the exact numerical value of zot yiheyeh bimei Chashmonaim — "this (dedication) will be in the days of the Hasmoneans."
"When the Greeks entered the sanctuary they defiled all the oils." (Shabbat 21b)
QUESTION: If the purpose of the Greeks was to extinguish the light of the Menorah and prevent its rekindling, why did they defile the oil? They could have accomplished this more effectively by using it up or destroying it.
The true objective of the Greeks was not to prevent
the rekindling of the Menorah
, but rather that it should be rekindled with defiled
oil. Hence, they purposely left a supply of defiled oil in the Sanctuary to be readily available for this purpose.
The Greeks were willing to recognize the Torah as a beautiful literary creation, with exceptional wisdom and profound philosophy, provided only that it was considered as a human creation, like their own mythology. As such, the Torah could be changed and modified from time to time, so as to harmonize with the character of the ruling class and the novel ideas and morals of the period. Thus, it was not the suppression of the Torah that they aimed at, but "lehashkicham Toratecha" — "to make them forget your Torah" — and not treat it as G-d-given.
Similarly, they were not averse to the moral and ethical values contained therein, but their concern was "leha'aviram meichukei retzonecha" — "to violate the decrees of your Will" — not to observe the Divine chukim, the so-called "supra-rational" precepts, which more than any other, distinguish the Jewish way of life.
Their objective was, thus, not to prevent the rekindling of the Menorah, but that its light should come from oil that had a Greek "taint."
"When the Hasmoneans overpowered and defeated the Greeks, they searched and found only one cruse of oil, that was lying with the seal of the Kohen Gadol." (Shabbat 21b)
QUESTION: What assurance did they have that the cruse was not touched by any of the Greek soldiers?
(ibid.) raises this question, and answers that it was buried in the ground, and thus the Greeks did not see it or know of its existence. A difficulty with this explanation is that there is no allusion to this fact in the Gemara
. Moreover, if so, why was it necessary to have a seal on it?
Careful analysis of the terminology used in the Gemara, prompts one to ask:
- The Kohen Gadol was not in charge of making oil. Why would his seal be on the cruse?
- Grammatically, instead of saying she'hayah munach b'chotmo shel Kohen Gadol — "that was lying with the Kohen Gadol's seal" — it should have said, she'hayah chatum — "that was sealed?"
From this we may deduce that when the Hasmoneans entered the Beit Hamikdash
, their eyes beheld a fascinating phenomenon. They saw one cruse of oil, and it was lying together
with the precious golden signet ring of the Kohen Gadol
. They surmised that undoubtedly no Greek had come into this area, because he definitely would have stolen the ring. Therefore, they confidently assumed that the cruse was not defiled by the Greeks and fit for the Menorah
"The oil in the cruse was sufficient for only one day, but miraculously they kindled from it for eight days." (Shabbat 21b)
QUESTION: Since the cruse of oil found was sufficient for the first day, the miracle was for only seven days, so why is Chanukah celebrated eight days?
The Beit Yosef (Tur, Orach Chaim
provides three answers for this problem:
- The Hasmoneans knew that it would take them eight days to get a new supply of oil. They did not want to kindle the Menorah for merely one night and neglect the succeeding seven nights. Hence, they decided to divide the cruse of oil into eight equal parts. Miraculously, the small amount of oil used the first night lasted for the entire night.
- After filling the Menorah on the first night, they saw that the cruse remained full of oil. This miracle recurred for the next seven nights.
- In the evening they poured the entire cruse of oil into the Menorah and kindled it. In the morning, they were amazed to find that after burning the entire night the cups were still filled with oil. Thus, on the first night a miracle had already occurred.
Some difficulties with the above:
- The Menorah cups must be filled with enough oil to last the night (Menachot 89a).
- Only pure olive oil is suitable, and not oil derived through a miracle!
In response, Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik of Brisk advances the thought that on the first night the entire
cruse of oil was poured into the Menorah
. The miracle was in the quality
of the oil. Oil which normally could burn for one night suddenly acquired the power to last for eight nights. Thus, each night the Menorah
remained full, with the original olive oil losing only 1/8th of its "flame" potentiality.
- There is an argument in the Gemara (Shabbat 21b) as to how many candles should be lit each night of Chanukah. According to Beit Hillel, we start the first night with one candle and each night we add a candle. According to Beit Shammai, we start the first night with eight, and decrease by one every night after.
According to the Avudraham, one of the meanings of the name "Chanukah" is "Candles should be lit for eight days, and the halachah is according to Beit Hillel" (that each night we increase one candle).
When one looks at the Chanukah Menorah any day of Chanukah, one can immediately tell from the number of candles being lit, that the halachah is according to Beit Hillel.
For example, on the third day of Chanukah one sees three candles lit, and one knows that this is according to Beit Hillel, because according to Beit Shammai, there should have been six candles lit. On the sixth day of Chanukah, if one sees six candles lit, one can derive from this that the halachah is according to Beit Hillel, because according to Beit Shammai there should have been only three candles lit.
If Chanukah candles were only lit for a period of seven days, then on the fourth night of Chanukah, according to Beit Hillel and also according to Beit Shammai, a total of only four candles would be lit. Thus, if one looked at the Chanukah Menorah that evening, one would not be able to see if the halachah was according to Beit Hillel or Beit Shammai. However, when Chanukah is celebrated for eight days, then on the fourth day, according to Beit Hillel one lights four candles and according to Beit Shammai one lights five candles.
Since the word "Chanukah" indicates that the halachah is according to Beit Hillel, Chanukah has to be eight days and not seven days.
- In Shemoneh Esreih and Birkat Hamazon we recite, during Chanukah, the prayer of Al Hanissim. In it, there are a total of eight things mentioned which Hashem did in our behalf to make Chanukah a reality. "You... 1) waged their battles, 2) defended their rights, 3) avenged the wrong done to them, 4) delivered the mighty into the hand of the weak, 5) the many into the hand of the few, 6) the impure into the hand of the pure, 7) the wicked into the hand of the righteous, 8) and wanton sinners into the hand of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah."
Therefore, Chanukah is celebrated eight days, though the miracle of the oil was only for seven days.
"According to halachah it is sufficient to light one candle each night throughout Chanukah for the entire household. Those who are mehadrin min hamehadrin — extremely careful in performing mitzvot — follow Beit Hillel and add one candle each night." (Shabbat 21b)
QUESTION: Why, in regard to lighting the Menorah, do all homes conduct themselves in the manner of mehaderin min hamehaderin — supremely scrupulous — while in many other mitzvot they follow lesser halachic requirements?
In describing the miracle of Chanukah
, the Gemara
relates that the Jews found only one cruse of oil and that it had the seal of the Kohen Gadol
. In the Beit Hamikdash
there were Kohanim
assigned to the special task of making oil. It was not the responsibility of the Kohen Gadol
to make oil. Why then did this particular cruse bear the Kohen Gadol's
The Kohen Gadol was required to bring a daily sacrifice consisting of flour and oil, known as "chavitei Kohen Gadol" (Vayikra 6:15). Normally, the oil used for this offering would be of lower quality than that used for the kindling of the Menorah. However, the Kohen Gadol in that time was a highly distinguished spiritual personality, and a mehader bemitzvot — scrupulous in mitzvot — who used pure olive oil for his daily sacrifice.
When the Hasmoneans entered the Beit Hamikdash, they did not find any oil to kindle the Menorah. Luckily they found one cruse which was designated for the Kohen Gadol's daily sacrifice, and, to their utter amazement, it was pure olive oil. Were it not for the fact that this Kohen Gadol was a mehader bemitzvot, no oil would have been available. To emphasize the uniqueness of the Kohen Gadol at that time, we emulate his actions in the form of mehaderin min hamehaderin.
On the basis of the above, we find another rationale for the observance of Chanukah for eight days, though there actually was enough oil only for the first night.
The Menorah required one half lug for each of the seven candles, adding up to a total of 3 1/2 lugim (Menachot 88a). The Kohen Gadol's daily sacrifice required only a total of three lugim of oil per day (Menachot 87b). Thus, the cruse found was not sufficient for even one night, though miraculously it burnt through the entire night.
"According to Beit Shammai, the first night we light eight candles, and we decrease by one each night. According to Beit Hillel, the first night we light one candle, and we increase each night by one." (Shabbat 21b)
QUESTION: What is the basis of their dispute?
They are disputing which has greater significance, the potential
or the actual
. Beit Shammai
holds that the potential
is more significant. The miracle of Chanukah
took place over a period of eight days. Immediately, on the first day the oil had the potential
to last for eight days. Each succeeding night this potential
was reduced; i.e. on the first night the oil miraculously was able to last for eight, and the second day it was able to last for seven days, etc. Therefore, to emphasize this aspect of the miracle, we decrease by one each night.
According to Beit Hillel, priority is given to the actual miracle. After the first night, the Jewish people witnessed a miracle of the oil lasting one night, the second night, two nights, etc.; therefore we increase one candle because in actuality, the visible miracle increased from night to night.
"Beit Hillel says, 'The first night light one and add one more each succeeding night...' One reason is that it corresponds to the days that passed... (another reason is that) in matters of holiness, one should always increase and not decrease." (Shabbat 21b)
QUESTION: What is the halachic difference between the two approaches to explain the opinion of Beit Hillel?
One difference may be as follows: When someone possesses very limited resources, and on the second night of Chanukah
lights only one candle, if on the third night he has sufficient resources, how many should he kindle?
According to those who assert that Beit Hillel's opinion is based on the days that passed, he would have to light three candles. According to the explanation that it is necessary to increase in holiness and not decrease, it would be sufficient to light only two candles, since the night before he lit only one.
Another difference would be in the event that on the third night of Chanukah one had resources sufficient only for two candles, how many should he light? If the reason for Beit Hillel's opinion is that it corresponds to the days that passed, the one who does not have three candles for the third night, will light only a single candle in order to fulfill the basic obligation of lighting a candle each night of Chanukah. According to the other explanation, one would light two candles. Although one cannot accomplish the increase in matters of holiness, at least one will not violate the command of "ve'ein moridin" — not to decrease in matters of holiness.
"These candles are holy." (Siddur, Haneirot Halalu)
QUESTION: What lesson can we learn from the Chanukah candles?
- Candles represent Torah and mitzvot, "A mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light (Proverbs 6:23). The additions of a candle to the Chanukah menorah each day teaches that in Torah and mitzvot, one should never be content with what was done yesterday. Each day one must strive to do more and improve in the observance of mitzvot and the study of Torah.
- The Chanukah lights commemorate the Menorah of the Beit Hamikdash. Yet there are major differences between them. In the Beit Hamikdash the Menorah was lit in the afternoon and on the inside, whereas the Chanukah candles are lit by the entrance facing the street and after dark.
This teaches that a Jew must not only light up his house, as with the Shabbat candles, but he has the additional responsibility to illuminate the "outside" — his social and business environment.
When times are "hard" spiritually, when it is "dark" outside and the Jews are in exile, it is not sufficient to light a candle alone and maintain it; it is necessary to increase the lights steadily. Constant growing efforts to spread the light of Torah and mitzvot will dispel the darkness of exile and illuminate the world.
"Your children entered the shrine of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards." (Siddur, Al Hanissim)
QUESTION: The kindling of the Menorah took place in the Beit Hamikdash itself. Why did the Hasmoneans kindle it in the courtyard?
When the Hasmoneans entered the Beit Hamikdash
, they found it defiled and in ruins. Thus, they were unable to kindle the Menorah
while it stood in its regular place. In the interim, while they were cleaning the mess and renovating, the Menorah
was kindled in the courtyard. This is permissible according to halachah
(see Rambam, Hilchot Biat Hamikdash
Through kindling the Menorah in the courtyard, everyone was able to witness the eight-day miracle, which would not have been the case had it been lit inside. Then, only the Kohanim would have seen it.
With this explanation, we can answer the popular question: Why Chanukah is celebrated for eight-days rather than seven, though sufficient oil was found for the first night.
The oil found would have lasted through the night only if the Menorah would have been kindled inside. However, Chanukah takes place during the winter, and due to weather conditions, the oil would normally not have been sufficient to last through the night when the Menorah was kindled outside in the courtyard.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe questions: According to this, grammatically it should be in singular: "bechatzer kadeshecha" — "in your holy courtyard" — in lieu of the plural, "bechatzrot kadeshecha" — "in your holy courtyards." Thus, he asserts that the Menorah was indeed kindled in the Beit Hamikdash. However, as an additional expression of joy and happiness, all the courtyards in the outskirts of the Beit Hamikdash were also illuminated with an abundance of light.
"Write on the horn of an ox that you have no share in the G-d of Israel." (Jerusalem Talmud, Chagiga 2:2)
QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 2:4) comments that the passage "there was darkness on the face of the abyss" (1:2) refers to the Greek monarchs, who darkened the eyes of the Jewish people with their harsh and cruel decrees. They proclaimed that the Jews should write on the horn of an ox that they had no share in the G-d of Israel. Why did the Greeks specify, "the horn of the ox?"
2b) explains that an ox can do damage in one of three ways: with its teeth, feet, or horns.
The Gemara further explains that when an ox gores with its horns, it does so with the intent to cause damage and derives no personal pleasure from the act.
The Midrash allegorically is describing the psychology and nature of the Hellenistic regime. They made vicious decrees against the Jewish people to deter them from studying Torah and observing mitzvot. Like the ox who gores with its horn and achieves no personal pleasure, they too, had nothing to gain. Their sadistic intent was solely to inflict suffering upon defenseless Jews.
"One gold ladle of ten (shekels) filled with incense..." (Bamidbar 7:14 — Torah Reading on Chanukah)
During the entire Yom Tov of Chanukah, we read each morning about the offerings the Nesi'im brought to the dedication of the Mishkan. Among the donated items was kaf achat Asarah zahav m'elei'ah ketoret — "One golden spoon full of incense." These words are acronyms which allude to the basic laws of Chanukah.
kaf = kaf pachot — The Menorah should be lower than 20 cubits above the ground.
achat = alef-chet tadlik — Kindle, starting with one and increase to eight.
Asarah = ad shetachlah regel hashuk — It may be lit until people stop walking the streets.
zahav = zemanah bein hash'mashot — Lighting time starts at twilight.
m'leiah = mitzvatah l'hanichah eitzel hapesach — It should be placed near the entrance door.
ketoret – karov tefach rochav tadlik — Within a hand breadth of the width of the door, kindle.
Fifth Day of Chanukah
QUESTION: Why do many synagogues hold festivities on the fifth day of Chanukah?
The fifth day of Chanukah
can never occur on a Shabbat
. When Chanukah
occurs on days that are even only potentially Shabbat
days, the light of Chanukah
combines with the light of Shabbat
for a powerful illumination. So the fifth night, which can never
, represents great darkness relative to the other nights. Thus, the fifth light of Chanukah
has the unique task and power to illuminate and instill spirituality even in such a time of darkness.
Similarly, it is the duty of every Jew, wherever he may find himself, be it in Warsaw, England, the United States or Canada, to illuminate the darkness.
In Chabad circles this day is of special significance because the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidut, was released from his second imprisonment on the fifth day of Chanukah, in the year 5561.
He was imprisoned because the government scholars thought that some of the topics accentuated and expanded in his Chassidic philosophy might cause insubordination to the government and refusal to engage in practical matters, which are necessary for the existence of the state. Upon articulately clarifying his teaching and dispelling their fears, he gained his release.
QUESTION: Why on Chanukah do we play with a dreidel and on Purim we use a gragger?
The miracle of Chanukah
was above the laws of nature. The Jewish people were the minority and the Greeks were the majority; we were the weak and they were the strong. Nevertheless, thanks to heavenly intervention, the miracle took place and the Jews were the victors.
On Purim, the miracle was clothed entirely within the laws of nature. The Jewish people gathered in prayer and fasting. Esther pleaded their case before the king. Out of love for his Queen, he killed Haman — her arch enemy.
Since the miracle of Chanukah came down from above, we spin the dreidel with the handle on top. The miracle of Purim was through an awakening from below — consequently we turn the gragger with the handle below.
On the dreidel there are four Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei, shin. This is an abbreviation for neis gadol hayah sham — "A great miracle took place there." The letters nun, gimmel, hei, shin have the numerical value of 358, which is also the numerical value of the word Mashiach.
When Mashiach will come, "the nations of the world will proclaim the name of G-d to worship Him with a united resolve" (Zephania 3:9). The nations will thus proclaim, "G-d is King, G-d is King, G-d will be King [forever and ever]," which also has the numerical value of 358.
We eagerly await his arrival: This is the great miracle which we all want to see now!!