One of the recurring questions found in Jewish literature concerning the Holiday of Chanukah is why we observe it for eight days. According to the Talmud, when the Maccabees entered the temple and sought to kindle the huge candelabrum—which was previously lit each and every evening—they discovered only one cruse of oil that was suitable for this ritual. All the other oil was contaminated. The problem was that it would take another seven days to replenish their supply of oil.
When they used the lone jug of oil for the first night, a miracle occurred and it lasted for the entire eight nights. This, ostensibly, is the reason that we celebrate Chanukah for eight days.
The question thus is: If they found one jug that had a sufficient supply of oil for at least one night, and there was no miracle on the first night, why then is Chanukah not a seven day celebration?
Literally hundreds of answers have been provided for this matter, each adding a novel insight or lesson for us in our own subjective understanding of Chanukah.
One way of answering this question is as follows:
When a person realizes that a miracle occurred, ironically, the more phenomenal the miracle is, the more the miracle is disconnected to our own world of reality, the less of an impact it will have. Only when a miracle is somehow anchored in our own sense of reality do we have the capacity to “fathom” the miracle and apply it to our lives.
The reason for this can be twofold: First, when one observes a miracle that is so out of the realm of the natural, there tends to be a feeling of skepticism as to whether it really happened. The more supernatural an event, the greater number of doubters emerge.
Second, since we are basically finite creatures, subject to the rules of nature, it is hard for us to find meaning in a phenomenon that defies our frame of reference. And even if we harbor no doubts about the veracity of the miracle, we cannot relate to it. As a result, we usually “file” that miracle in a part of our consciousness that is not connected to other parts of our personality. The miracle, notwithstanding its magnificence—nay, because of its magnificence—will have little or no impact on our lives.
We can now understand why Chanukah is a eight day Holiday despite the fact that the miracle lasted for only seven days. Were it not for the first day—when the cruse of oil that was discovered enabled them to light the menorah in a natural way—from which the miracle of the additional seven days ensued, they could not really relate to the miracle. If miraculously, the Menorah would have produced light without having any oil whatsoever, the miracle would have blown their minds and yielded virtually no long-term effects, because the miracle would have been so mind-boggling, rendering it irrelevant because it would be impossible to assimilate it into one’s “normal” existence.
Hence, by having the miracle follow a rather natural event—lighting of the one cruse of foil they found and burnt naturally—the miracle was anchored and had the effect of bringing light into the prosaic aspects of our lives.
We can also now understand a passage in the Talmud that states: “A Chanukah menorah that is placed higher than twenty cubits (approximately 30 feet) above ground is not acceptable for the fulfillment of the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah menorah.” The reason for this is that a menorah placed so high is out of sight.
Besides it s literal meaning, “out of sight” here can also mean, out of the framework of our reality. A person who views Chanukah as an utterly transcendent experience that has not bearing on our lives, has missed the essential point of Chanukah—to bring the light of Chanukah into every aspect of our lives and not to compartmentalize the miracle.
Concerning the Messianic Age, Maimonides states that there will be a natural world. The sole difference between life today and life in the future is that then we will enjoy total freedom, which will allow us to devote our lives to the higher spiritual pursuits unencumbered by the constraints that go along with a lack of freedom.
How do we reconcile this rather down-to-earth description of the future Messianic Age with other Biblical, Talmudic and even Maimonidean quotes that we will all be exposed to an unprecedented awareness of G-dly light?
The answer is that the most transcendent
G-dly light—represented by the light of Chanukah—will not take us away from our natural selves, it will illuminate every facet of our lives. Just as the miracle of Chanukah was grounded in our reality, so too the G-dly reality to be revealed in the Messianic Age, will be linked to and manifested within our natural world. It will become a part of us, rather than to negate our existence. We will then enjoy a perpetual Chanukah.
A Happy Chanukah!