What was miraculous about the victory of Chanukah? Any child in kindergarten knows that the miracle was the shorthanded, weaker Jews defeating the numerous and powerful Greeks. Indeed, it is an historical fact that cannot be denied. But our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Meir Kahane, z”tl, sought to delve a notch deeper into the miraculous victory of the few against the many, and by doing so, resolve a famous question regarding Chanukah.
The “Miracle Within The Miracle”
Rabbi Kahane would say: Remember, before the victory of the Macabees over the Greeks and hellenists took place, there was the actual war itself. When the Macabees went out to battle, they had no feasible chance of winning. Not only were the Jews fewer and weaker than the well-oiled Syrian Greek war machine, but amongst the Jews themselves, only a sparse few went out to battle under the command of Yehuda Macabee and his brothers. And so, to enable such an inconceivable victory to occur, there had to be, first of all, a few “crazies” who dared to rise up in arms against this invincible empire! Here, Rabbi Kahane would say that the essential miracle of Chanukah was not the war victory, but rather the very fact that a few Jews realized that “things just cannot go on this way”, arose, and with immense faith in the Almighty, declared war on the superpower of their day. For given the fact that they were able to miraculously overcome their awesome enemies, prior to that miracle they surely did not know that the Almighty would perform the miracle for them. Nevertheless, they went out. That in itself, the Rav would say, was an act of immense courage, “the miracle within the miracle.”
God Controls the Laws of Nature
But where does the “miracle of the oil” come into play? Let us ask the question differently: There is some confusion concerning the reason we celebrate Chanukah. Do we celebrate Chanukah to commemorate the oil that was sufficient for only one day, and continued to burn through eight days, or are we celebrating the war victory? 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 Hanisim”, coined by the rabbis, does not even mention the miracle of the oil. The theme and heart of Chanukah 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).” 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 miracle of the oil symbolizes how God controls the laws of nature: Just as oil sufficient for one day can burn for eight, if He wills it; so, too, are numbers irrelevant when Am Yisrael goes out to war. By the same token, just as we said that the miracle of the war victory was the very fact that Jews went out to battle in the first place, so, too, the oil symbolizes “the miracle within the miracle”. After all, in order for the meager quantity of oil to last for eight days, there had to be Jews who lit it in the first place – Jews who were not discouraged from the outset; Jews who did not say: why bother lighting the candles of the Temple if they are going to go out anyway…? No. You do your part, with the means available to you, and Hashem will do His part. “Open for me an opening like the point of a needle, and I will open for you gates like the gates of the sancturary.”
The Question of the “Bet Yosef”
Now we can ask the question posed by the Bet Yosef (Yosef Karo): There is a source which says that the length of the holiday of Chanukah is eight days because oil that was sufficient for only one day, lasted eight. The Bet Yosef asks: 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. Various and varied reasons are given. Rav Kahane says: Indeed, we celebrate eight days because the first day was a miracle as well. It commemorates the very fact that they dared to go out to battle! The very fact that they dared to “light the candle”. That’s also a miracle, “the miracle within the miracle”.
The Holiday of Our Times
Chanukah is not a childrens holiday of “dreidels” and donuts. It is a holiday that is meant to rekindle our trust in the Almighty, to reinforce the understanding that when Jews go out to battle in an obligatory war with faith in God, they come out victorious, even if they are the underdog.
Chanukah is the holiday for these days. Days when masses of Arabs arise against us, and Hashem stands at our side. But what happens when the official Jewish leadership from left to right is overcome with fear, crippled by lack of faith and thereby incapable of action? Then the torch is passed on to the few. It is passed unto those who are ready to cling onto Eretz Yisrael at any price. And then the day comes in which they are told by the non-believers: “If you are not ready to pull out, that’s your choice. But deal with the enemy by yourselves. Because we are afraid, we have no faith. You claim that you have faith?! Fine – let’s see what you can do.” And those precious few, inspired by a pristine faith in the Almighty, will arise to repel the enemy.
Those with Jewish vision foresee the Macabean war in our generation. In this war, at least at the outset, only a few will take part. Those Jews of rock-solid faith in the God of Israel, who sincerely believe that God is a loyal defender of His people Israel – they will be an example to the multitudes who will eventually follow. “In those days, at this time”.