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The Significance of Chanukah

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Celebrating 8 Days

"The oil in the cruse was sufficient for only one day, but miraculously they kindled from it for eight days." (Shabbat 21b)


Why is Chanukah celebrated eight days? The cruse of oil found was sufficient for the first day, so that the miracle was for only seven days?
The Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim 670) provides three answers for this problem:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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:

    1. The Menorah cups must be filled with enough oil to last the night (Menachot 89a).

    2. 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.

  4. 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 Shamai, 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 halacha 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 halacha is according to Beit Hillel.

    For example; on the third day of Chanukah he sees three candles lit, he then knows that this is according to Beit Hillel, because according to Beit Shamai, there should have been six candles lit. On the sixth day of Chanukah, if one sees six candles lit, he can derive from this that the halacha is according to Beit Hillel, because according to Beit Shamai there should have been only three candles lit.

    If Chanukah candles were only be lit for a period of seven days, then on the fourth night of Chanukah, according to Beit Hillel and also according to Beit Shamai, 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 halacha 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 Shamai one lights five candles.

    Since the word "Chanukah" indicates that the halacha is according to Beit Hillel, Chanukah has to be eight days and not seven days.

  5. In Shemonah Esrei and Birchat Hamazon we recite during Chanukah the prayer of Al Hanisim. In it, there are a total of eight things mentioned which Hashem did in our behalf to make Chanukah a reality.


    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."

    Consequently, Chanukah is celebrated eight days, though the miracle of the oil was only for seven days.

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