As we enter the final days of Chanukah, we will try to pull together the various ideas discussed here last week, and see if we can perhaps emerge with a deeper understanding and appreciation for these days, and use those ideas in our avodas HaShem.
We find in different sources (one of which is Ramban cited at the end of last week’s column) that the neiros of Chanukah represent the very neiros with which the miracle transpired, the Menorahand neiros in the Beis Hamikdash. And it is interesting that those neiros have a unique and special message; as the Gemara in Shabbos states, “Was the Menorah [in the Beis Hamikdash] there to give light?… Rather, the Menorah gives testimony to all the inhabitants of the world that the holy Shechinah, the Divine Presence, rests upon Klal Yisrael” (see the Gemara there for exactly how it does that). And perhaps we can say that it is in that sense as well that the neiros Chanukah represent the neiros in the Beis Hamikdash — that our victory over the Greeks/Syrians was a victory of kedushah over the desecration and the chillul wrought by those who wanted to blur those lines bein kodesh l’chol — thus blurring the lines bein Yisrael l’amim. For we saw that the Greeks/Syrians indeed effected a desecration of the holiness of the Temple. And therefore the miracle of the Menorah, of the oil, was the triumph of the Jewish people, the essence of the sign that the Shechinah had returned! And that explains how this rededication of the Beis Hamikdashwas effected — the physical building was still there, after all — the requirements of Chazal for a full-fledged chanukas habayis is only for new physical entities. Here, the lighting and miracle of the Menorah was all that was necessary to show that kedushah had returned to Klal Yisrael, that the Jewish people are different than the other nations, in that we represent kedushah and the Shechinah in this world. And that was the victory of this chag.
To further prove this point: In Maseches Middos, the Mishnayos dealing with the architectural design of the Beis Hamikdash, the soreg is mentioned (an area with a fence around it demarking a specific area on the TempleMount as one heads westwards into the Temple compound). The Mishnah says that there were thirteen breaks in the fence of the soreg which the Greeks/Syrians of the Chanukah story made there; after the Jews’ victory, they were repaired, and a takanah was made to bow down to HaShem at each of these thirteen “repair-spots.” What is this all about?
The Tosafos Yom Tov, a basic commentary on Mishnayos, explains that the reason the enemy made these breaks in the soreg, of all places, was because the soreg was the boundary beyond which a non-Jew was not permitted to enter the Beis Hamikdash compound! And the general game plan of this enemy was, as stated, to blur the difference between Yisrael l’amim! And thus they made these symbolic breaks (thirteen being the numerical value of echad, the uniqueness of HaShem echad and “Who is like your people Israel, goy echad ba’aretz!’), and Klal Yisrael repaired them, reinforcing and reiterating this separation.
And so we have the “darkness” of Yavan, coming to cloud the uniqueness of Am Yisrael; the victory of the Chashmonaim through the miracle of the Menorah which, through its very essence, showed how “the Shechinah rests among the Jewish people”; the restoration of the Temple to its kedushah from the desecration wrought by the Greeks’ attempts to “break down the soreg”! And that victory is what we celebrate, with our neiros Chanukah giving that testimony even when the Beis Hamikdash and the Menorah are sadly (temporarily) no longer around.
That, then, is how Ramban could say that the brachahmade over our Chanukah lights is the brachah one makes over seeing the place of a nes; for we are gazing not at our chanukiyah, but at the spiritual replica of the Menorah in the Temple!
We are familiar with the idea that there are two types of miracles which occur: a miracle within the “rules” of nature, in which HaShem “maneuvers” things to work out “miraculously,” even though there is nothing outside the bounds of “nature.”And then there is the “above-teva” nes — e.g. the splitting of the sea, Abraham emerging from the furnace unscathed. At first glance, it seemed to the Chashmonaim that the Chanukah miracle was of the first kind, the military victory of a band of guerilla warriors over mighty armies which far outnumbered them. This would not call for a Yom Tov; hence the Gemara’s question of “What Is Chanukah.” And the Gemara explains that the open manifestation of the Shechinah residing amongst Klal Yisrael counts as an open other-worldly miracle, brought about by a small jug of oil burning for eight days, and the testimony that the Shechinah is here!
This is what we thank and praise and sing to HaShem on Chanukah — for the maintaining of our other-worldly uniqueness. This is why the first part of Al Hanissim speaks only of the military victory, primarily a yeshuah for Klal Yisrael. But then the prayer goes on to speak of lighting the Menorah in a rededicated Temple compound; and there we speak of “and they established these days of Chanukah to give thanks and to praise Your great Name.”
This explains why there is a special mitzvah to see the neiros, beyond the mitzvah to light them, for they are the testimony about our being an abode for the Shechinah, unique among the nations of the world, and are the cause of the hallel v’hoda’ah and establishment of these special days of spiritual celebration.