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Chanukah Al Hanisim

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By Rabbi Jesse Horn

In order to understand the Al HaNisim of Chanukah better, it pays to contrast it with the Al HaNisim of Purim.  Both texts open with a similar phrase, “Bimay . . .” In the days of and then lists the central characters in the respective holiday; Mordachi and Ester in the Purim text and Matisyahu Ben Yochanan, the Chashmonayim and his sons in Chanukah’s. Then each Al HaNisim continues with the potential threat, the Chanukah text records the Greek kingdom’s threat, and the Purim one Haman’s.   However, the description of the danger Haman imposed is significantly richer with detail than that of the Greek kingdoms. Interestingly, there are more synonyms and descriptions mentioned in the context of Purim.  One simple question to ask is, why?  Why is the Al HaNisim text of Purim more extensive in detail?

 

The second section of each of Chanukah’s and Purim’s Al HaNisim begin with the same phrase as well, “V’Atah B’Rachamecha HaRabim” And you with great mercy and proceeds to describe the salvation.  However in this second section, the Chanukah text is more descriptive, offering more detail in the military victory than the Purim text does.  And again, it pays to ask why.

Perhaps the greatest difference between the two Al HaNisim texts, is that after both describe the threat and salvation, the Chanukah text continues with a third section demarcated with the same phrase “Shem Gadol” Great name in the beginning and “L’Shimcha HaGadol” Your great nameat the end. This third section captures an extra dimension that exists only for Chanukah and not Purim. The extra paragraph describes how the Jews retook and entered into the Beis HaMikdash, cleaned and purified it and established Chanukah.  What is its significance and why does it exist by Chanukah only?

In order to answer our questions - why there are more details regarding Purim’s threat and Chanukah’s salvation and also what third dimension exists by Chanukah and not by Purim - it pays to look at the difference between the holidays themselves.

Perhaps the primary difference between Purim and Chanukah is that Purim is a story about Jews surviving while Chanukah is one about Jews thriving.  The Purim miracle enables the Jews to avoid annihilation and destruction, yet at the end of the Purim story, they return to their original and neutral status.  Purim took place outside of Israel, where the goal is survival, and that’s what the Purim miracle ensured.  Chanukah, by contrast, took place in Israel, a place to build the Jewish future.  It is therefore not surprising that the Chanukah story ends with a greater climax; namely the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash and the powerful opportunity that brings.

It is for precisely this reason that the description of Purim’s threat is more properly developed.  Since it took place outside of Israel, a place for Jewish survival, the focus of the Al HaNisim text is more on the potential threat and less on the salvation.  Ultimately, Purim is an example where there was a serious threat and it was thwarted.  The Al HaNisim of Chanukah, by contrast, emphasizes the salvation instead.  Taking place in Israel the Chanukah miracle enabled the Jews to return back to the Beis HaMikdash and granted them with an incredible opportunity to bring the Geula to the world.  Of course the salvation is stressed. 

Based upon this we can now also understand the third element in the Chanukah’s Al HaNisim.  Because the Al HaNisim on Chanukah is designed to capture the potential the Jewish people have, specifically when there is a Beis HaMikdash, it has a third section; one designed to illustrate the significance and great importance of rededicating the Beis HaMikdash and opportunity to praise and share with the world, Hashem’s “L’Shimcha HaGadol” Your great name.

(This article was also published in Arutz Sheva)

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