If you look in the Chumash at the very each end of each sedra you will notice that (in small writing) there is an account of the total number of psukim in the sedra. However, when it comes to parshas Miketz, uniquely we are not only told the number of psukim, but also the number of words in the sedra; 2025. Why? A cute answer is offered. Miketz tends to fall out on Chanuka, and 2025 has a connection to Chanuka.
How? For the gematria of ‘ner’ (candle) is 250, which, multiplied by eight (eight nights of Chanuka) comes to 2000. Then add 25 (the date of the start of this festival; the date of the end of the war), and one gets to 2025; the total number of words in parshas Miketz!
Anyway, this year Chanuka spans both the Shabboses of parshas Vayeishev and Miketz, and so for these two weeks we shall be discussing the finer and deeper aspects of this delightful and illuminating festival. There is a very cryptic gemarra [1] which opens up the central topic of Chanuka. After having discussed the obligation of lighting the Chanuka candles for almost a page, the gemarra asks a shocking question - ‘what is Chanuka’ (‘mai chanuka’), and proceeds to tell us an answer. ‘On the 25th Kislev…when the Greeks entered the heichal and made all the oil there impure. The kingship of the House of the Hasmoneans beat the Greeks, but they checked and were only able to find one jug of oil which had the Kohen Gadol’s seal on it; which would only suffice for one day. A miracle occurred and this oil lit for eight days, and so the next year they made these (eight) days a festival with Hallel and thanksgiving (hoda’ah).’ The question of the gemarra is difficult to understand, at best - the gemarra never asks ‘what is Purim,’ for example - and it become even more puzzling given that the gemarra has already been discussing Chanuka candles until now.

What’s going on? Fortunately, we are not the first people to ask this (obvious) question. In four words, Rashi implies this question and answers it at the same time. Rashi, in commenting on the words of the gemarra ‘what is Chanuka,’ says ‘based on which miracle did they fix it.’[2] Let’s explain. There are two miracles which occurred during the Chanuka story; our victory over the Greeks in battle, and the oil lasting for eight days. Which miracle did Chazal fix the yom tov of Chanuka to commemorate primarily; the battle or the oil? Rashi understood that the gemarra was asking this very question; which of the two miracles caused the festival?
And the answer is that (re-read the quoted piece again) the main miracle here was the oil; the gemarra hardly focuses on the miracle of the war. That is all if one looks at this gemarra and topic through Rashi’s lens. But there are other opinions on the subject too. Though the gemarra seems to forgo a long description of the miracle of the war, preferring to dwell on the miracle of the oil instead, the paragraph of al hanissim which we insert into our amidah and birkas hamazon during Chanuka takes the opposite stance. In al hanissim the miracle of the oil makes a cameo appearance at best (it just says ‘they lit candles in Your holy courtyards’); centre stage is clearly reserved for the description of the miracle of the war.
Thus, (the Rishon) Rav Yonassan MiLunille[3] is of the opinion that the main miracle behind Chanuka is that of the war. Indeed, he writes that we would have had this festival even if the miracle of the oil would not have happened (and it would have been eight days anyway[3b]). The miracle of the oil just gave us the mitzvah of lighting candles - but the Hallel and hoda’ah is because of the war. [Rav Yonassan MiLunille would probably have understood the gemarra’s question ‘what is Chanuka’ to be asking ‘for which miracle do we light candles on Chanuka,’ as the Maharsha[4] explains.]
So, in true Jewish tradition, we have a machlokes as to the central miracle behind the establishing of the festival of Chanuka; was it the miracle of the oil lasting (Rashi), or the victory at war (Rav Yonassan MiLunille). Moreover, it would seem that this is behind another dispute regarding Chanuka. Where does the name ‘Chanuka’ come from? The Ran[5] cites an explanation that ‘Chanuka’ is made up of the words chanu kaf heh, which means ‘they rested on the 25th,’ which is when the war ended. Others[6] explain the name Chanuka referring to the ‘chanukas mizbeyach’ - the inauguration of the mizbeyach and Mikdash in general. This could be seen as the same machlokes as that of Rashi and Rav Yonassan MiLunille. A name describes the essence of the festival, and so whatever the name Chanuka is referring to, it must be the main attribute/event of the festival. Thus, the opinion cited by the Ran holds that the main miracle of the festival was the war (hence ‘Chanuka’ referring to the war), whilst the opinion which explains the name ‘Chanuka’ to refer to the re-inauguration of the Mikdash holds that the main miracle was the oil lasting for eight days; which signified the first mitzvah done in the process of inaugurating the Mikdash. Another potential outgrowth of this machlokes is the chakira of the Rogerchover as to whether Chanuka is one festival of eight days (which one should hold if the main miracle is the war) or eight separate festivals of one day (which would only be possible if one held that the main miracle is the oil, for each day was a new miracle). We’ll leave you to ponder that one.[6b] Anyway, so far we have just laid down the opinions; but what are the underlying reasons for each side? I have nothing ‘flashy’ to say about this, but this is what I came up with after thinking through each side. It depends which way one looks at the greatness of a miracle. The miracle of the war was great in terms of its result of Jewish (spiritual and physical) survival and sovereignty, as well as its sheer surprise factor - who would have thought that an army of a handful of Kohannim could beat the huge Greek army?! However, the miracle was not an open one; the war lasted for years and years, and the Jews did suffer many casualties along the way. The miracle of the oil, however, did not have as earth-movingly great results as the miracle of the war (one cannot compare the defeat of the Greek army to oil lasting for eight days in terms of scale of miracle), but it was an open miracle; it was clear to all that there was no natural explanation for such a feat. Thus, the machlokes hinges on the following: does one look at the scale of the miracle (in which case the war was a greater miracle; this is the opinion of Rav Yonassan MiLunille), or the openness of the miracle (in which case the oil miracle was greater; this is the opinion of Rashi)?

If anyone has any better/deeper explanations, I’d be grateful to hear from you (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

However, the show is not over; there is a third opinion on the subject - that of the Rambam and Me’iri. In his introduction to the festival of Chanuka, the Rambam[7] gives equal ‘airtime’ to the miracle of the war and that of the oil (halacha alef is about the war, whilst halacha beis is about the oil). Indeed, after telling us that the war ended on the 25th Kislev, the Rambam goes on to stress that the beginning of the festival is on this same 25th. It seems, as the Pri Chadash[8] points out, that the Rambam holds like the Me’iri,[9] that the first day of Chanuka is all about the war, whilst the other seven days of Chanuka are all about the miracle of the oil (the miracle of the oil was only seven days in truth - as the famous question of the Beis Yosef goes - there was already enough oil for one night). So, in summary, we have seen three opinions as to the main miracle of Chanuka; the war (Rav Yonassan MiLunille), the oil (Rashi), or both (Rambam and Me’iri). We shall end with a short idea about Chanuka. The main battle between the Greeks and the Jews on an ideological level in the Chanuka story was on the relationship between truth and beauty. The Greeks held that one can separate the two - beauty can be aesthetic and bodily-focussed even if truth dictates otherwise.
The Jews, however, held that beauty is inseparable from truth. Beauty in its highest form must always relate to truth. And truth means HaShem, Torah, and our practice of Torah and mitzvos. Thus, our principle commandment to make something beautiful is the obligation to beautify mitzvos; to have a nice Lulav, a nice Sefer Torah, etc.[10] Similarly, the Ramchal reveals that the king Hadar mentioned in parshas Vayishlach[11] refers to Moshiach. The word ‘hadar’ means beauty; it is appropriate that the time which will see the greatest clarity of truth (HaShem’s Presence) - the times of Moshiach - will be headed by someone whose name means beauty.[12] Nowadays, this message is particularly appropriate, with the wider world using beauty as a means to destroy the truth of family relationships, social fabric, and people’s traits too. The greatest beauty is the ability to perceive truth and live by it.

Merry Chanuka!


[1] Gemarra Shabbos 21b [2] Indeed, it is noteworthy that Rashi did not even feel a need to introduce his words with a ‘kelomar;’ he must have felt that the words of the gemarra itself directly lead to his explanation. Compare Ran 9b ‘mai’ who does use the word kelomar and uses the word davar instead of Rashi’s nes. [3] Chiddushei Rav Yonassan MiLunille, Shabbos 9b in his format [3b] For, as Rav Yonassan there says, Chazal wanted to show such gratitude for this miracle of the war that they decided to make Chanuka the longest festival there is (Sukkos is only seven days; shmini atzeres is a different festival, as the gemarra says); eight days. [4] Maharsha Shabbos 21b ‘mai’ [5] Ran Shabbos 9b ‘asa’um’ in dapei harif [6] Maharsha Shabbos 21b [6b] The gemarra Shabbos 21b does say ‘they made them yamim tovim,’ which implies that there are eight separate yamim tovim, which would also explain why we say full Hallel on all eight days (like Sukkos; each day of which is a separate yom tov almost) and not just the first (like Pesach, where it is all one yom tov; hence the same number of korbanos each day. See Mishna Brura 644:4 and Tur there) [7] Rambam hilchos Chanuka 3:1-3 [8] Pri Chadash Orach Chaim 670:1 [9] Me’iri on our gemarra Shabbos [10] Gemarra Shabbos 133b [11] Bereishis 36:39. The pasuk does not say that Hadar died, which is the impetus for the Ramchal’s comments. [12] This message of not splitting beauty from truth also applies in the study of Torah. Often, I have seen people who say things, in explaining the gemarra/Rishonim, which sound very pretty and interesting to listen to, but they are not true - the person is only saying such things because they sound good (and deep). It is important to stick to truth and not beauty in Torah study; and then the true beauty will emerge. Better to admit that one does not fully understand/know how to explain something than make up something which sounds fancy but is not true.

Add comment

Have something to say?
Please make your comment below!
All comments are reviewed prior to publication. Absolutely NO loshon hara or anything derogatory or hurtful to anyone will be permitted on the website.


Security code
Refresh