Chanukah has always been one of the few mitzvos celebrated by the full spectrum of Klal Yisrael — from the greatest tzaddikim to even non-religious Jews.
Harav Shimon Shalom Kalish, the Amshinover Rebbe, zy”a, gives some insights into the miracles and the mitzvos of Chanukah that, if you will, shed some light on why it became and remains a universal celebration.
Reb Shimon Shalom points out a unique aspect of the mitzvah of lighting the menorah. The Gemara (Shabbos 21b) says “The Sages taught: The mitzvah of Chanukah is [to light] one candle for each man and his household. Those who are scrupulous light a candle for each and every individual, and as for the extremely scrupulous, Beis Shammai says to start with eight lights and diminish to one; Beis Hillel says to light one and progressively increase to eight.”
Nowhere else do we find a good-better-best selection of how to do a mitzvah. We are told to choose the nicest lulav and esrog. But there is no hierarchy of ways to shake them. On Chanukah we are presented with a menu of options.
These options directly relate to the descriptions of the victory of the Chashmona’im against the Greeks. In Al Hanissim, we thank Hashem for “the miracles and salvations…” and we say:
“You delivered the powerful in the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure in the hands of the pure, the evil into the hands of the righteous, and the sinners in the hands of those occupied with Your Torah.”
Each of these corresponds to the different levels of how Klal Yisrael experienced the nes. Each person celebrates on a scale corresponding to his own perception of the miracle.
The option of “each man and his household” corresponds to the level of “t’mei’im in the hands of the tehorim,” which relates to the taharah of the Jewish family.
“A candle for each and every individual” corresponds to “resha’im in the hands of tzaddikim.” The designation tzaddik — righteous — is related to Rashi’s explanation of divrei tzaddikim: words that are just (or true, or correct). Each word or idea has its own specific (individual) truth or rightness.
And those who are extremely meticulous kindle an additional light, increasing the number each day. This corresponds to the Midrash “And Rivkah loved Yaakov.” Every time Rivkah heard his voice, her love for Yaakov increased. That refers to the kol Torah — the sound of Torah that grows and grows with those who are involved in the study of Torah.
Reb Shimon Shalom asks another interesting question. In the Al Hanissim prayer, we say “the powerful in the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure in the hands of the pure, the evil into the hands of the righteous, and the sinners in the hands of those occupied with Your Torah.”
By definition, a nes is something that goes outside the laws of nature. It is the impossible made possible. We can understand the miraculous in relation to “the powerful in the hands of the weak” or “the many in the hands of the few.” But what is unnatural or miraculous about “the impure in the hands of the pure, the evil into the hands of the righteous, and the sinners in the hands of those occupied with Your Torah”?
That was also a miracle, Reb Shimon Shalom says. Klal Yisrael was in such a state of siege and distress — battling against a seemingly invincible enemy, against impossible odds… and yet they kept their faith. They remained holy and righteous and — incredibly — kept up the intensity of their Torah learning. What was that if not a miracle?
After the victory against the Greek army, the Jews re-entered the Beis Hamidkash. No doubt it was a devastating sight. Still, they didn’t give up. “Badku v’lo matz’u — they searched and didn’t find” any oil that had not been defiled.
What happened? “Naaseh nes — a miracle was performed.”
This is an odd expression, says Reb Shimon Shalom. Why doesn’t it simply say “Hashem made a miracle”?
He answers that the nes only came about as a direct result of the effort of their searching.
It is just like Moshe Rabbeinu’s finding it “difficult” to create the Menorah for the Mishkan. Finally he threw the gold into the fire and the Menorah came out fully fashioned.
But it was only after Moshe’s near superhuman effort to make the Menorah that the miracle could happen.
The miracles of Chanukah teach us that even our own efforts are miraculous — a gift from Hashem. But miracles only happen to those who first do everything humanly possible. And each at his own level.