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The History of Chanukah

The Menorah Files

How to Celebrate Chanukah


Thoughts on Chanukah

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Long(er) Essays

   The Heroines of Chanukah

The Secret of Chanukah

The Greatness of Peace - The Purpose of Light

Being P.C. or C.P.

The Big Collision

The Shape of The Menorah

Let There be Light

Two Miracles: Two Modes of Commemoration

A New Level of Awareness

The Message of The Chanukah Lights

Why The Maccabees Rebelled

Increasing The Amount of Candles Lit on Chanukah

Reliving Chanuka

Chanukah and Moshiach

Chasidic Discourse - Mai Chanukah

Q & A

Letters From the Rebbe

Children's Corner

The Significance of Chanukah

 Let There be Light A New Level of Awareness

Two Miracles: Two Modes of Commemoration

The Chanukah Miracles

The Rambam describes the Chanukah miracle as follows: [1]

  1. In [the era of] the Second Beis HaMikdash, the Greek kingdom issued decrees against the Jewish people, [attempting to] nullify their faith and refusing to allow them to observe the Torah and its commandments.

    [The Greeks] extended their hands against the property [of the Jews] and their daughters.... The Jews suffered great difficulties..., for [the Greeks] oppressed them severely until the G-d of our ancestors had mercy upon them, delivered them from [the] hands [of the Greeks] and saved them.

    The sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priests, overcame [them], slew them, and saved the Jews from their hand....

  2. When the Jews overcame their enemies and destroyed them, they entered the Sanctuary.... They could not find any pure oil in the Sanctuary, except for a single cruse. It contained enough oil to burn for only one day. They lit... the lamps with it for eight days until they could crush olives and produce pure oil.

As may be seen from the wording of the Rambam, there are two miracles: the military victory in which G-d "delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, and the many into the hands of the few," [2] and the miracle through which the oil in the golden Menorah burned for eight days, rather than one.

Relating to the Material and the Spiritual

The Rambam concludes [3] that, in commemoration of these miracles, our Sages instituted the observance of the eight days of Chanukah as "days of happiness and praise [to G-d]," on which "lights should be kindled in the evening."

The commentaries on the Rambam [4] infer that "happiness and praise" represent two different modes of commemorating the miracles: "happiness" refers to the custom of holding celebratory feasts [5] during Chanukah, and "praise" refers to the recitation of the Hallel. [6]

Since the military victory was material, it is celebrated physically, through eating and drinking; the miracle of the Menorah was spiritual and therefore, it is commemorated through spiritual activities - kindling lights and reciting the Hallel. [7]

Light is the most spiritual element in our material world; though visible, it is not governed by the conventional laws of physical matter. [8]

The spiritual aspect of the victory over the Greeks therefore found expression in the miracle of the lights of the Menorah of the Beis HaMikdash, and we commemorate this miracle by lighting Chanukah candles every year.

"What is Chanukah?"

The Talmud [9] emphasizes primarily the spiritual aspect of the Chanukah miracles.

Our Sages ask: "What is Chanukah?" - i.e., for which miracle was the holiday instituted? [10]

Their answer recounts the episode of the Menorah without elaborating on the military victory over the Greeks.

Although the miracle of the Menorah could not have taken place without the military victory, the victory itself does not define Chanukah.

Chanukah is a holiday of spiritual light; even the war against the Greeks was essentially spiritual, since it was a struggle to preserve the Torah heritage from the taint of secular influence. [11]

This is why the prayer beginning VeAl HaNissim, which expresses thanks to G-d for the military victory, does not mention the spiritual miracle of the Menorah, for the latter eclipses it and is deserving of separate mention. [12]

There is thus a separate means of commemoration for each of these two miracles.

Body and Soul

The name Chanukah shares the same root as the Hebrew word for "education" - chinuch. [13]

This implies a connection between the commemoration of this holiday and our ongoing personal growth, for Chanukah, like all the festivals, communicate s a message that applies even after its celebration has concluded.

On a basic level, the message of Chanukah - that spiritual light can overpower military might - teaches us the supremacy of soul over body.

Although we are a composite of body and soul and although the soul needs the medium of the body in order to express itself, the supremacy of the soul is not limited; the soul invigorates the body, and controls its functioning. [14]

By emphasizing only the miracle of the lights, our Sages highlight yet a deeper lesson.

Chanukah grants every soul the potential to express itself without any hindrance from the material nature of the body.

One can live and function in the world without being influenced by worldliness. [15]

Chanukah enables us to live in the material world for the sake of a spiritual purpose, in the same way that the military victory over the Greeks was spiritually motivated.

Chanukah further empowers us to make our lives within the world a medium for the expression of our spiritual service, like the miracle of the Menorah.

Living in this manner will hasten the coming of the era when this ability will spread throughout the world - in the Era of the Redemption, when "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed." [16]

May this take place in the immediate future.


  1. (Back to text) Rambam, Hilchos Megillah VeChanukah 3:1.

  2. (Back to text) The prayer beginning VeAl HaNissim (Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 59).

  3. (Back to text) Rambam, loc. cit. 3:3.

  4. (Back to text) Yam Shel Shlomo on Bava Kama, ch. 7, sec. 37; Bayis Chadash, Orach Chayim, sec. 670.

  5. (Back to text) From the wording of the Rambam it appears that he maintains that it is a mitzvah to hold such feasts. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 670:2, based on statements of Rabbeinu Asher and Rabbeinu Yitzchak Alfasi) differs, maintaining that no mitzvah is involved. The Rama cites other authorities who share the view of the Rambam, but for different reasons.

  6. (Back to text) This is recited throughout all eight days of Chanukah (Rambam, loc. cit. 3:5; Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit. 683:1).

  7. (Back to text) The recitation of Hallel also connects to the military victory as reflected in the prayer beginning VeAl HaNissim.

  8. (Back to text) This concept is reflected in the realm of Halachah. Pesachim 26a states that an image (which is transmitted through light rays) "has no substance."

  9. (Back to text) Shabbos 21b.

  10. (Back to text) Rashi, loc. cit.

  11. (Back to text) See the essay entitled, "Why the Maccabees Rebelled: A Superrational Commitment to the Torah."

  12. (Back to text) According to this interpretation, the phrase (in VeAl HaNissim) "and they kindled lights in Your holy courtyards" does not refer to the lighting of the Menorah (for that was kindled in the Sanctuary building), but rather other lights kindled in celebration of the military victory. [The Derashos of the Chasam Sofer (p. 67a) offer a different interpretation.]

  13. (Back to text) The essay (Level of Awarenes) develops this idea at length.

  14. (Back to text) This concept has deeper significance pointing to - to borrow philosophic terms - the supremacy of form over matter. This principle lies at the heart of contemporary society, for in many areas, both in war and in peace, we have seen how superior thought, the medium with which we relate to form, can prevail over mere material power. This concept is paralleled in a halachic principle that eichus ("quality" or "inward virtue") is given precedence over kamus ("quantity").

  15. (Back to text) Speaking of the halachic restrictions on transferring objects from one domain to another on Shabbos, our Sages (Shabbos 93b, as cited by Rambam in Hilchos Shabbos 18:28) state: "A person who transfers less than the standard measure [of a substance] is not liable even though he transfers it in a container. [Though he would have been liable had he transferred the container alone, here he is not liable, because] the container is subsidiary [to its contents]; [when the person transfers it,] he is concerned not with the container, but with what it contains." Similarly, concerning the connection between our bodies and our souls, we can regard our material activities as having no independent importance, and see them as nothing more than a medium for the expression of our divine service.

  16. (Back to text) Yeshayahu 11:9.

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