Why is Chanukah Different?

The Berditchever Rav, zy”a, wonders about the fact that kindling neiros Chanukah is the only mitzvah that directly correlates to the miracle that occurred. Why, for example, 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 Ten Makkos. Nor does any mitzvah on Purim involve a piece of wood, to commemorate the hanging of Haman…

The Rebbe answers 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 Ten 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 onus 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 that we do not find in connection with any other Yom Tov. Therefore, it is only appropriate that the mitzvah of Chanukah correlates 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.

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Many wonder why Yosef Hatzaddik did not attempt to contact his father during the more than two decades that he was in Mitzrayim. One explanation is that he was waiting for what he had seen in his dreams — that he would be a ruler and king — to come true.

The Shem MiShmuel points out that this explanation only covers the period when he was running the household of Potifar, and then again when he was freed from prison to become the Mishneh Lamelech, as during those time periods he was in a position of prominence and could readily envision reaching the stature he had dreamed of. But during the twelve years he was locked in prison and his life was in constant danger, why didn’t he try to send a message to his father? Yaakov Avinu certainly would have done everything to try to redeem his beloved son!

He answers that Yosef Hatzaddik drew the same conclusion that his grandfather Yitzchak Avinu had. He reasoned that since Hashem has chosen to withhold the information from Yaakov Avinu, it was clearly the will of Hashem that Yaakov remain in the dark, and therefore he concluded that he should not try to contact his father.

The Shem MiShmuel, zy”a, draws an analogy between this concept and a thought of his father, the Avnei Nezer, zy”a.

There is a profound lesson in the wicks and oil we use for neiros Chanukah. The oil consistently allows itself to be pulled up by the wicks, even though by doing so it is steadily consumed by the flame.

At times it would appear that avodas Hashem is contrary to a person’s own interests. For instance, a person might think that by dedicating time to Torah study and davening he is detracting from his parnassah.

Nonetheless, it is our obligation to emulate the oil and strengthen our bitachon in Hashem, fully believing that whatever happens to the one who goes in the ways of Hashem is for his own good and benefit.

There are times when this fact is as clear as sunshine. There are other times when Hashem’s ways are hidden and we cannot, with our very limited powers of comprehension, understand how what we’re going through is in fact for our own good.

Yosef Hatzaddik faced severe challenges while in a prison cell, yet he strengthened himself with such bitachon in Hashem that he refrained from even contacting his father. In this way he was able to reach extremely lofty levels in avodas Hashem.

This is one of the secrets of neiros Chanukah. It is a mitzvah we perform at night, when it is dark, symbolizing a time when the ways of Hashem are hidden. The menorah is positioned on the left side of the doorway, “left” symbolizing a sense that we are being pushed away from Heavenly consideration; as Chazal say, one should “draw [another] close with the right and push away with the left.”

Yet despite these conditions, we emulate the oil that makes its steady way up the wick, as we faithfully follow and draw closer to Hashem.

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At the time of the Chashmona’im we merited the nes of Chanukah by mesirus nefesh. As we undertake to emulate them and serve Hashem with emunah and bitachon, may we merit the miracle of the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day.