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Home » Chanukah, Miketz

Chanukah: A Love Fest

Submitted by on November 28, 2010 – 4:13 amNo Comment | 3,051 views

The Arithmetic of Light

Every Jewish child masters the Chanukah arithmetic long before graduating from kindergarten. We light one candle on the first night, two on the second, three on the third, till we reach night number eight. In fact every child takes special pleasure in kindling their very own Chanukiah. But how many children know that the basic rules of Chanukah require only one candle per night per household?
That’s right. Adding a candle per night is beyond the letter of the law and kindling a separate light for each family member is way beyond the call of duty. Why is it that Jews, who would never dream of eating an extra Matzah at the Seder or fasting an extra minute on Yom Kippur, kindle their Chanukah lights in the most expansive way; gleefully surpassing the minimum requirement two times?

To answer this question we must examine the miracles that we celebrate on Chanukah.

In Purity

When the Maccabees repelled the Syrian Greeks in 140 BCE and drove them from Jerusalem they found the Holy Temple in shambles. They set out to restore the Temple and its rituals, but ran into a snag with respect to the candelabra. By Jewish law, oil used in the Temple’s candelabra must be ritually pure, but the Greeks had broken the priestly seal on every jar and maliciously defiled the oil. (1)

Two miracles occurred. The first miracle allowed the Maccabees to find a single jar of oil that had escaped the attention of the marauding Greeks. But there was only enough oil in this jar to last one night and it would take eight days to deliver additional oil of requisite purity. The second miracle enabled the single jar of oil to burn for eight days and nights. (2)

These miracles ostensibly enabled the Maccabees to kindle the candelabra in purity, but a question arises. Why was it so important that the oil be pure? After months of Greek occupation the majority of Jews were in a state of ritual defilement and Jewish law permits the performance of Temple services in a defiled state when the majority of Jews are defiled. (3) If the candelabra could have been kindled with defiled oil at that time, why did G-d, who does not perform miracles in vain, perform a double miracle?

In The Royal Chamber

The answer can be found in the following Biblical tale. Pharaoh had two terrible dreams and could not find a satisfactory interpretation. Word reached Pharaoh that Joseph, who was then a prisoner in Pharaoh’s dungeon, was a masterful dream interpreter. He summoned Joseph from the dungeon, but before presenting himself Joseph paused to shave and change his clothes. (4) Why did he make Pharaoh wait the extra minutes? Did Joseph need to be well dressed to interpret the dream?

The discerning reader will immediately grasp that Joseph did not dress for his own benefit, but for the King’s honor. To appear in rags would constitute a breach of decorum and would be an affront to the king. Though Joseph, having been delivered from the dungeon, had a perfectly valid excuse for his unkempt appearance, he wouldn’t hear of appearing that way. He would appear before the king with honor and would not use his excuse to dishonor the king. In a sense, dishonoring the king would dishonor Joseph.

This is why the Maccabees and the nation had little interest in kindling the Temple’s candelabra with defiled oil. We are each cloaked in an aura; a spiritual attire if you will. When we are in a state of ritual purity our aura is wholesome and holy. When we are in a state of ritual defilement our aura is tattered and soiled.

The Maccabees, like Joseph, could have legally justified kindling the candelabra with defiled oil and thus appeared before G-d in spiritual tatters, but they didn’t want to. a love fest - innerstreamThey had little appetite for a triumphant return to the Divine abode dressed in spiritual rags. They wanted to honor the king and would rather have waited eight days to use pure oil than mark G-d’s presence with an impure light. (5)

G-d had heard enough. If my children want to honor me, He mused, I will miraculously enable it. He intervened and led them to a previously unknown jar of ritually undefiled oil. (6)

The Second Miracle

There was enough oil in this jar to last one day, but had they wanted to, the Maccabees could have stretched it. The wicks ordinarily used in the candelabra were huge; they produced a large flame and consumed great quantities of oil. The Maccabees could have used smaller wicks and rationed their oil. But they refused to kindle G-d’s light with a puny flame. Their triumphant return to G-d’s abode would be marked by a festive, flaming light, not a poor, miserly glimmer. (7)

Once again their desire for proper decorum jeopardized their chances of kindling the candelabra in future days, but they didn’t care. Better to honor G-d correctly once than be miserly with His flame eight times. Again G-d complied and performed a miracle; allowing a single jar to burn for eight full days. (8)

Our Response

G-d could have spared Himself two miracles and left the Maccabees to kindle a meager light in a state of impurity. But sensing the passion of their overflowing hearts He responded in love and provided an opportunity. He sensed their love for Him and responded in kind. His, was a reckless love that spawned two unnecessary miracles. If there were bureaucratic bean counters in heaven they would likely have complained about this wanton waste of miracles. G-d would likely have replied, be silent, this is true love!

To this, we too respond with a double offering of love. Just as G-d went out of his way twice, once to provide a jar of ritually pure oil and once to make it burn for eight days, so do we. Once when we add a light each night and the second time when each member of the household kindles Chanukah lights.
Without even realizing it we surpass the line of duty two times. We don’t do this any other time of year, but Chanukah.

Chanukah is a love fest. G-d showered us with love and we shower Him right back.

Reflect on this as you kindle your Chanukah light and you too will feel the love. (9)


  1. A person or object becomes ritually impure when they
    come in contact with a cadaver or a living body in a state of impurity.
    Examples of states that cause defilement include Tzaraas and certain
    bodily emissions. The process of reunification generally entails a seven
    day waiting period, the sprinkling of the ashes from a red heifer,
    immersion into a mikvah and the offering of a sacrifice.
  2. For the complete story of Chanukah visit www.chanukah.org
  3. Babylonian Talmud, Psachim, 77a.
  4. Genesis 41: 14.
  5. Kindling the candelabra in the Temple is precisely
    like presenting oneself before the king. The Talmud (Shabbat: 22b)
    explains that these lights were not kindled for G-d’s sake; G-d does not
    require light. They were kindled for our sake; to demonstrate through
    the daily miracle of the western light (which contained the same amount
    of oil as the others, but burned in a continuous flame) that G-d is in
    our midst. Kindling these lights is thus the equivalent of presenting
    ourselves before G-d.
  6. This explanation is offered by Pnei Yehoshua in his commentary on Shabbat: 21b.
  7. This explanation is offered by Beis Halevi Al Hatorah in his section on Chanukah.
  8. This explanation becomes more poignant when you
    consider that rather than outlawing the Torah, the Greeks outlawed faith
    in G-d. Follow the rules of the Torah, they allowed, but only because
    you think them rational, not on account of Divine Decree. This is
    indicated by the daily Chanukah prayer that describes the Greek effort
    to make us forget your torah and transgress your Mitzvah. The effort to
    repel the Greeks was thus fueled by a desire to remain faithful to G-d.
    Having been banned from His house for a long time, they desired a
    glorified return, not a half hearted one.
  9. This essay is based on Toras Menachem, v. 29 pp 297-291.

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