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By Elisheva Kohn, Current MMY Student

In his sefer, Siftei Chaim, Rabbi Chaim Friedlander presents a collection of questions regarding the miracles of Chanukah.

  1. Chazal compare Esther HaMalka to shachar, dawn, because the nes of Purim symbolizes the end of an era of nisim. However, chronologically speaking, Chanukah is yet to come.

    Why does it seem like the nisim of Chanukah are being downplayed by Chazal?

    אמר רבי אסי למה נמשלה אסתר לשחר? לומר לך מה שחר סוף כל הלילה אף אסתר סוף כל הניסים. והא איכא חנוכה? ניתנה לכתוב קא אמרינן (יומא כט.)

  2. Why is the nes of Chanukah not written down, as opposed to the nes of Purim?
  3. During the period of the Chanukah story, the Jewish people witnessed two extraordinary nisim: the victory of the Chashmonaim and the nes pach hashemen. Yet the only mitzvah of Chanukah is Ner Chanukah. Why do we commemorate one nes only? Should we not be celebrating the “more extraordinary” miracle?

The Siftei Chaim brings a simple yet brilliant idea forward: light succeeds dawn. The nisim of Chanukah represent a new period of miracles, in which nisim depend on the people, their maasim tovim and kavod Hashem. A period of taking initiative, not passively watching Hashem save the day. Hitorerut Shefa MiL’maala is the term Rabbi Friedlander uses to describe the first Beit Hamikdash, a period of profound spirituality and prophecy. However, the miracles during the time of second Beit Hamikdash depended on the actions of the Jewish people and their chizuk in Torah She B’al Peh. Chazal wanted to emphasize the difference between these two periods and their respective nisim.

The last two sections of Tanach; Neviim and Ktuvim, in which Megilat Esther is found, were written with Ruach HaKodesh. The story of Chanukah however, was not written down because it illustrates the return to a period of Torah and Mitzvot which are initiated by l’mata, not l’maala. The Chashmonaim sacrificed themselves l’shem shamayim, therefore the miracles of Chanukah exemplify a more absolute mesirut nefesh.

If the victory of the Chashmonaim was so significant, why do we not commemorate it with a specific mitzvah?

We must make a clear distinction between common battles and the fight against the oppression of Torah. The goal of the Chashmonaim was to return to a time of Torah scholarship and mitzvot. They were totally committed to Torah She B’al Peh. Since their battle was l’shem shamayim, we commemorate the miracles of Chanukah by doing a mitvah derabanan which is sourced in Torah She B’al Peh: we light candles, just as the Kohen Gadol did in the Beit Hamikdash. By focusing on the nes pach hashemen, we are making a clear statement about our priorities. The Chashmonaim fought for the right to do mitzvot, and we honor our warriors by doing what they fought for. 

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