The Message in the Candles
Rabbanit Sally Mayer
The festival of Chanukah commemorates an incredible miracle. When the Beit Hamikdash was rededicated by the Hasmoneans after their military victory, a small flask of oil sufficient enough to light the menorah for one night, lasted eight. However, there have been other miracles which seem far greater than this one in Jewish History and we, as a nation, do not celebrate them. For instance, there is no holiday for the splitting of the Jordan River when the Jews crossed into Eretz Canaan. There is no holiday celebrated to remember the sun stopping for Yehoshua during his battle in Giv’on, and the list goes on. So, why is the miracle of the oil lasting eight days instead of one so special? Further, there were many miracles in the time of the Beit Hamikdash, described frequently in the Talmud, why do we specifically celebrate this one?
Perhaps the answer lies in the special symbolism of the menorah in the Beit Hamikdash, and the particular time this occurred. The Talmud (Yoma 21b) teaches that there were five ways in which the second Temple was inferior to the first, one of which was the lack of the shekhina, G-d’s holy presence. The Gemara in Shabbat tells us that what testified to the shekhina’s presence was the western lamp of the menorah, which had the same measurement of oil as all the rest but lasted longer than them all. For the forty years that Shimon Hatzadik served as Kohen Gadol (High Priest) during the second Temple, the daily mini miracle of the menorah, that small sign that G-d was involved in the Temple service, returned for a time (Yoma 39a). However, after his death, it would occur only sporadically.
The Hasmoneans fought valiantly to rededicate the second Temple, but it was a diminished Temple, missing its signature miracles that showed Hashem’s favor. When Hashem returned the daily miracle that happened in the first Temple and multiplied it by eight, imagine the joy and celebration amongst the Jewish people! This wasn’t just a supernatural occurrence, but a clear sign from G-d that He approved of our efforts and is willing to join us once again in the Beit Hamikdash. This indeed warrants a yearly celebration, and it takes on added meaning as we pray daily that Hashem should return His shekhina to Jerusalem once again and grant us the full redemption.
Rabbanit Sally Mayer is the rosh midrasha of the Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas Program at Midreshet Lindenbaum