What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word Chanukah? For many people, the answer may be latkes or dreidels. While those are beloved customs associated with Chanukah the main focus is the reason we are celebrating.
The holiday of Chanukah was instituted to commemorate two miracles. We are supposed to remember the miraculous victory of a small band of Jewish fighters who were battling a far larger force of Greek soldiers. These Jews were fighting for the right to serve Hashem in peace. The other miracle we are commemorating is that of the oil. When the Jews re-entered the Bais Hamikdosh (the Holy Temple), which had been under the control of the Greeks, they found one jar of pure oil with which to light the Menorah. There was only enough oil to burn for one night, but miraculously, the oil burned for eight nights. By the time eight nights had passed, they were able to prepare more pure oil to light on the coming nights.
These are the two miracles that we are celebrating on Chanukah. It would be reasonable to wonder if there is a connection between these two miracles, other than the victory leading to the lighting of the Menorah. After all, every other Jewish holiday has one major theme that we are celebrating. Is there an underlying theme to Chanukah that both of these miracles speak to?
There are many possible ways to answer this question. The simplest connection is that both of these miracles are meant to remind us that Hashem controls what happens in this world. Occasionally He demonstrates this through miracles that are clearly supernatural (such as the oil lasting eight days). More frequently he does it through seemingly “natural” miracles (such as the war) where something that is so improbable as to seem impossible happens, and we realize only Hashem could have caused events to unfold in this way.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch offers a different explanation of the connection between these two miracles. He says that in both of these miracles we see that what is most important is quality not quantity. In the war between the Maccabees and the Greeks, the Maccabes were vastly outnumbered and not nearly as well trained as the Greek soldiers.
But Hashem doesn’t need a big army to fight His wars. He is looking for people who are completely dedicated to doing what is right. Once He finds those people, He will take care of the rest. Similarly, it didn’t matter how much oil they found. The important thing is that it was 100% pure. Once we make sure that we are using pure oil Hashem will take care of the rest. According to Rav Hirsch, this is the message of the miracles of Chanukah. We don’t have to worry about how many people are doing the right thing. If we know that something is right, we should dedicate ourselves to doing it. If Hashem wants us to succeed, we will succeed- no matter how few in number we are.
*There is a Mitzvah to light the Menorah in the Bais Hamikdosh every night. During the time that the Greeks were in control of the Bais Hamikdosh the Jews were not able to fulfill this mitzvah.
Chanukah Inspiration by Jewish Resources