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Chanukah - Why Eight Days?

by Rabbi Yehudah Prero

In the last post, we discussed the background history of Chanukah. We mentioned that only one flask of pure oil which still bore the unbroken seal of the High Priest was found in the Temple. Hashem performed a miracle, and this flask of oil which should only have lasted for one day was able to be used to light the Menorah in the Temple for eight days, until which time no additional pure oil was available.

Therefore, we celebrate eight days of Chanukah. The Bais Yosef, a commentator on the Tur Shulchan Aruch, asks (in Orech Chayim 670) a question that has been termed by many as "The Bais Yosef's Question" on Chanukah, due to the popularity of the question which emerged becuase of the seeming simplicity of the question, the large number of answers offered to resolve the question and the discussion surrounding these answers. He asks why Chanukah is eight days long. If there was enough oil in the flask that was found to last one day, then the miracle of the oil lasting for was really only a miracle for the latter seven of the eight days. Yet, we know that we celebrate Chanukah for eight days! What is the reason behind the eight day celebration that we have?

The Bais Yosef himself offers three approaches:

  1. Those who were preparing the Menorah for lighting knew that it would take eight days until new oil could be obtained. They therefore divided the flask into eight parts, so that at least the Menorah would be lit every day, albeit not for the entire day. A miracle occurred and the small amount of oil that was placed in the Menorah each day lasted an entire day. Hence, there was a miracle on the first day as well.
  2. On the first night, the contents of the flask were emptied into the Menorah. This would enable the Menorah to be lit for one entire day. However, after filling the Menorah, it was discovered that the flask miraculously was still full. This miracle repeatedly occurred for each of the days. Hence, there was a miracle on each of the eight days.
  3. On the first night, the entire contents of the flak were emptied into the Menorah. This would enable the Menorah to be lit for an entire day. When the Menorah was checked on in the morning, it was discovered that none of the oil burned up, and the Menorah was still full, although the flame was lit. This miracle occurred for each of the days. Hence, the first day when the oil did not burn up was miraculous as well.
Many other answers have been proposed. The P'ri Chodosh writes that we do cot celebrate the first day of Chanukah because of the miracle of the oil. We celebrate the first day in commemoration of the miraculous victory by the Jews in the wars waged against Antiochus and his troops. The Aruch HaShulchan mentions a number of reasons. He writes that the Mitzvah of Bris Milah (circumcision) was forbidden under the reign of Antiochus, and after the military victory, the Jews were once again able to openly perform this commandment. In order to commemorate the fact that we were able to resume performing this commandment which occurs on the eighth day of a baby boy's life, we have eight days of Chanukah.

Another reason he gives is that the Medrash tells us that the construction of the Mishkan (The Tabernacle, which was the equivalent of the Temple, and built while the Jews were in the desert after leaving Egypt) was completed on the 25th day of Kislev. However, the Mishkan was not "dedicated" until the month of Nissan, the month in which our forefathers were born. Hashem, in order to "make up" the loss of a holiday to the month of Kislev, caused the miracle of Chanukah and the rededication of the Temple occur in Kislev. As the dedication of the Mishkan and the beginning of the service lasted eight days, we too celebrate for eight days. In fact, the name "Chanukah" means "dedication," to allude to this aspect of the celebration. (As an aside, the name Chanukah can also be read as a combination of the two words "Chanu k'h" which means "they rested on the 25th" - an allusion to the "resting" that occurred after the Jews were victorious in their battles.)

For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.



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