What is Special About Chanuka?
By Rabbi Yonah Burr
The Gemara in Meseches Shabbos 21b tells us the familiar story of Chanuka:
When the Greeks entered the Heichal, they contaminated all the oil. When the Chashmonai kingdom overcame them, they could find only one jar remaining. It was securely sealed with the Kohen Gadol's stamp. It contained one day’s worth. A miracle occurred and they were able to kindle with it for eight days. The next year, they established a Yom Tov dedicated to reciting Hallel and offering thanks.
It is interesting that these thanksgiving prayers we say contain little reference to the Menorah miracle. We primarily thank Hashem for the battle victory. "He delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the impure into the hands of the pure, and glorified and made His Name great." Is this the miracle that we commemorate with the Yom Tov of Chanuka?
The Meforshim explain that the true miracle of Chanuka is, indeed, our victory over, and deliverance from, the mighty Greeks. However, Hashem did a secondary miracle. He made the oil last eight days. The miracle of the lights was Hashem’s way of shining His Countenance upon us to show that He was pleased with our efforts.
Throughout the ages, Jews have fought countless battles and seen numerous miracles and victories. Why do we celebrate Chanuka more than the other victories throughout our history?
What was special about this particular battle?
At the end of Parshas Noach, Rashi draws a fascinating distinction between Avraham and Haran. Both stood up for their beliefs in Hashem. Both were thrown into Nimrod's fiery furnace. Avraham miraculously survived. Haran did not.
What’s the difference?
Rashi explains that Avraham was willing to give up his life for Hashem. He stood up for what is right, and protested the service of idols. When Nimrod threw him into the furnace, Avraham did not expect to survive. Therefore, Hashem performed a miracle. On the other hand, Haran saw the miracle and complacently allowed Nimrod to throw him inside. He was sure that Hashem would perform a miracle for him, too. His act was not mesiras nefesh. He had no intention to give up his life. So he did not deserve the miracle.
The Battles fought throughout Tanach were fought to win. Hashem, of course, allowed our victories. But the Chashmonaim, facing the mighty Greeks, had absolutely no intention of winning. They simply wanted to sanctify Hashem’s name. They stood up for what was right and protested the decrees against Yiddishkeit. It was an act of Mesiras Nefesh, of giving up their lives for their belief in Hashem.
That’s why Hashem did a special miracle for them.
Our Sages teach us that our Yomim Tovim are not, merely, commemorations of historical events. Rather, they are times when we have access to the same spiritual energy and influences that existed at the time of the original event. To gain and to grow. The fact that we continue celebrating this victory shows that the Chashmonaim made an everlasting impression on the consciousness of the Jewish People, which is accessible to all of us. We each have the potential to overcome any obstacle for the sake of Hashem.
Let us use this Chanuka to become inspired. With that inspiration, we can rise above our own challenges and continuously grow in our Avodas Hashem!
A Freilechen Chanukah!