Chanukah: Publicizing the Miracle, by Rabbi Yosef Blau

In the recital of Al HaNissim on Chanukah we thank Hashem for the many miracles in the military victory of the Chashmonaim over the Greek Syrians who had persecuted the Jews.  Rashi’s comment on the question of the Talmud in (Shabbat 21b), mai Chanukah, on which miracle was the celebration of Chanukah based, clearly assumes a focus on only one specific miracle.  Our obligation to publicize the miracle is restricted to the miracle of the crucible of oil that lasted for eight days.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that when thanking Hashem for the miracles He has done for us, we are required to be expansive.  In both the Amida and Birchas haMazon, Al HaNissim is recited within the framework of the blessing thanking Hashem. If one accepts the textual version of this prayer that adds the connective vav in u’vezman hazeh, this expansion is extended to our own times.  This concept is demonstrated as well in the Seder night in the later part of the Haggadah.

The historical background for the observance of Chanukah is summarized by Maimonides in the introductory paragraph of his Hilchos Chanukah.  The persecution of the Jews by the Greeks is described as both spiritual and physical, and the victory of the Chashmonaim as having military, political and religious significance.  Yet it is clear that the lighting of the candles memorializes the miracle of the oil.  Maimonides (Hilchos Chanukah 4:12) describes how beloved the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles and spreading the miracle is, even for the impoverished.   Placing the candles in the outer courtyard where non-Jews also will see the lit candles reflects its public nature.   The unique obligation for one who sees the candles to recite a blessing even when one does not perform the mitzvah is also indicative of this message.  A miracle that enhanced religious observance in the Temple is to be proclaimed to all, leaving out celebrating a miraculous military victory.

Strikingly, Maimonides ends the laws of Chanukah by pointing out that there is a different lighting of candles that reflects a value that is greater than publicizing the miracle.  Lighting the Shabbat candles which symbolizes harmony within the home has priority.  It is possible that this conclusion sheds light on what is missing from Maimonides historical summary.  The struggle of the Chashmonaim was an internal one against Hellenized Jews as well as fight against the external enemy. Maimonides does not mention this, but the critical value of peace and harmony is not only necessary in the family but amongst the Jewish people as a whole.  This is indicated in Maimonidies’s concluding comment, “Great is peace. The entire Torah was given to make peace as it is written, “Its ways are pleasant and its paths lead to peace”.

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