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Rabbi Ari Enkin

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

The main miracle of Chanukah was the victory of the tiny Jewish nation against a much larger enemy. So, too, the 1967 Six Day War ended in victory for the State of Israel through Divine intervention.

Although most people are under the impression that the primary miracle of Chanukah, and the reason we light the Chanukah menorah, is to recall the miracle of the oil, namely, that enough oil for one day lasted eight days, this actually might not be the case.

As renowned Jerusalem Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1910-1995) wrote:

“The primary purpose for lighting the Chanukah candles is in order to praise the Holy One Blessed Be He for the great miracles which He performed for our forefathers in the military victory. Therefore, when lighting the candles, one is to concentrate on thanking God for the military victory. ” (emphasis added)

Jerusalem reunited.

Israeli soldiers reach the Western Wall in the Holy City of Jerusalem in 1967. (David Rubinger)

In fact, there is much more evidence to suggest that the primary miracle and emphasis of Chanukah is the miracle of the military victory. It is also noted that the famous Al Hanissim prayer, in which we thank God for the miracles of Chanukah, focuses primarily upon the military victory. The Haneirot Halalu declaration, recited after lighting the menorah, does not mention anything about the miracle of the oil. So, too, according to many authorities, the She’asa Nissim blessing recited each night of Chanukah, in which we thank God for the Chanukah miracle, refers to the military victory and not to the miracle of the oil.

There is even a view that immediately after reciting the first blessing of l’hadlik, when lighting the Chanukah menorah, one should recite the Haneirot Halalu declaration and only then continue with the She’asa Nissim blessing and the actual lighting of the menorah. The reason for this approach is in order to ensure that one will have in mind the military victory when lighting the menorah. Although common custom is not in accordance with this view, it certainly demonstrates the significance and centrality of the military victory.

Miracle of the Oil Serves as a Reminder

It emerges, therefore, that the requirement to praise God on Chanukah is much more connected to the miraculous military victory than to the miracle of the oil. Indeed, it is noted that we don’t find any precedent where the rabbis instituted an obligation to praise God for a miracle which is already commemorated through the performance of a commandment  (i.e. the lighting of the menorah). Furthermore, although the lighting of the menorah is certainly intended to recall the miracle of the oil, it might just be that doing so is actually intended to help us focus on praising God for the military victory.

In fact, it might be especially important to emphasize the military victory. This is because with regards to the miracle of the oil, it was obviously a miraculous event! However, cynics could argue that the military victory was completely natural, won by might, determination and a series of fortunate coincidences. The same is true regarding the 1967 Six Day War and other Israeli military operations. Although these IDF victories are clearly miraculous, there will always be those who insist it was Israeli military might alone that is to be credited for the victory rather than any Divine intervention. Perhaps this is the reason God also created the miracle of the oil in the first place – to remind us that just as the miracle of oil was clearly from Him, so, too, was the military victory.

Chanukah articles

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