The kindling of neiros Chanukah is the only mitzvah that directly correlates to the miracle that occurred. For example, we don’t we have a mitzvah involving water on the seventh day of Pesach, when we celebrate the miracle of Krias Yam Suf. We eat matzah to commemorate the fact that we left Mitzrayim in such a hurry that there was no time for our dough to rise, and maror commemorates the fact that the Egyptians embittered the lives of our ancestors. But no mitzvah directly commemorates any of the open miracles that occurred then, such as the 10 Makkos. Nor does any mitzvah on Purim involve a piece of wood to commemorate the hanging of Haman.
The Berditchever Rav, zy”a, explains that there is a fundamental difference between the nes of Chanukah and the other miracles our nation has merited. The other miracles, such as Pesach and Purim, were crucial to our very existence as a nation. If not for the miracles of the 10 Makkos and the splitting of the Yam Suf, we would still be enslaved in Egypt. If not for the miracle of Purim, we would not exist today. But the nes that occurred on Chanukah, the fact that the small amount of oil burned for eight days, was not necessary for our existence.
Furthermore, Chazal teach us “Oness Rachmana patrei — when someone, for reasons beyond his control, cannot perform a mitzvah, he is exempt from doing so.” The Gemara (Brachos 6a) tells us that if a person thought to do a mitzvah and was unavoidably prevented from doing so, the Torah credits him as if he actually did the mitzvah.
Thus, the nes of the oil was not truly “necessary,” so to speak. Rather, it was a revelation of the great ahavah the Ribbono shel Olam has for the performance of the mitzvos by His beloved children. With the miracle of Chanukah, Hashem showed us how much he treasures our mitzvos, something we do not find in connection with any other Yom Tov. Therefore, it is only appropriate that the mitzvah of Chanukah correlate directly to the nes that occurred.
But why, indeed, did Hashem choose to show us this great ahavah for our performance of His mitzvos specifically on Chanukah?
The Berditchever states that it was in the merit of the mesirus nefesh of the Yidden at the time of the Chashmona’im, some of whom literally gave their lives al kiddush Hashem in order to keep the mitzvos. Among these transcendent Yidden were Chanah and her seven sons.
For this mesirus nefesh for the mitzvos, they merited that Hashem revealed to them how much He loved their keeping mitzvos. (Kedushas Levi)
Based on this concept, we can also understand another seemingly perplexing fact: The miraculous victory of the Chashmona’im, which saw the weak overpowering the strong, the few defeating the many, was far more than a military victory. The very survival of our people was at stake; without the ability to keep the mitzvos and learn Torah, we would not have had a future. Our very existence — to this very day — is because of the great kindness Hakadosh Baruch Hu did with our ancestors at that time.
So one would have assumed that the primary celebration would have been about the victory of the Chashmona’im, yet from Chazal (Shabbos 21a) it appears that the primary reason we recite Hallel during Chanukah is because of the miracle of the oil, not the victory on the battlefield. The fact that the oil burned eight days was indeed a great miracle, but one would have thought it would pale in comparison to the miracle of the victory over the Greeks.
The following parable helps shed light on this question.
For years, a family had carefully guarded the priceless diamond that had been inherited from a distant ancestor and faithfully passed down through the generations. When it inexplicably went missing, it was a stunning blow to the entire family. Young and old joined together in a frantic search in every nook and cranny of the house. As time passed with no sign of the missing heirloom, their profound concern turned to deep anguish, but the search efforts continued unabated.
Surprisingly enough, it was six-year-old Menachem, the youngest child in the family, who found the glistening gem. Instantaneously, sighs, groans and tears were replaced with shouts of unbridled joy. Menachem’s father, who ordinarily was not the type to show affection to his children, rushed over to his young son and planted a kiss on his forehead.
For days to come, the happiness in the home was almost tangible. Every member of the family was overjoyed that the stone had been found. But Menachem had double reason to rejoice. He was delighted that he had been the one to discover the heirloom. But, in addition to his elation over the diamond, he was ecstatic over the kiss he had received from his father.
Because the victory on the battlefield was one that ensured the very existence of our people, it was a most “necessary” one. The miracle of the oil was a show of affection, a revelation of love that the Ribbono shel Olam has for us. It is for this revelation and all it represents that the primary celebration during Chanukah is for the miracle of the oil. (Adapted from a teaching by Harav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt”l.)