We are all familiar with the question that the Beis Yosef asks regarding Chanukah: why are there eight nights of Chanukah, when the miracle was seemingly only for seven nights? The oil that was found was sufficient to last for one night, yet it miraculously lasted for eight nights. Seemingly, the miracle was only that the oil lasted for an additional seven nights. So, why do we light for eight nights?
I heard an answer to the Beis Yosef’s question. It begins with a short story. The story is about a chasidishe rebbe when he was a young child. His name was Reb Avraham Hamalach (the angle). He once came crying to his father, the Maggid of Mezrich, Rav Dov Ber a talmid of the Baal Shem. His father asked him why are you crying? He said he was playing hide-n-go-seek and he hid and no one found him. So, his father asked him why are you crying, you won! That’s the whole point of the game! The boy answered because now they stopped searching for me.
Now his father looked up to Shamayim and said Father in Heaven isn’t this the story of history – You hid Yourself so that we could search for You, but You hid Yourself too well that many people stop searching.
Now we can answer the Beis Yosef’s question. The reason why we celebrate the first night of Chanukah even though on that night it was not a miracle that the oil burned is because we celebrate the fact that the Jewish people searched for the oil. When they came into the Beis HaMikdash it was in shackles everything was contaminated and made tamei. All the oil was broken. There was no logical reason to even think of looking for a pure jug. It didn’t even make sense to even spend the time looking for such a small possibility. But the Gemara tells us that they searched – badku – and because they did not give up they found it.
In our lives as well we see so many things that can tell us that it is impossible or that it is just too hard, and it does not pay to continue to try. The celebration of the first night of Chanukah tells us that it is always important to continue to try. In many ways, the miracle of the first night is greater than the other seven because on the other seven days Hashem performed a miracle for us, but on the first night we celebrate the miracle that the Yidden did not give up. They persisted and did not stop searching for the pure oil, and they found it.
On a similar note I want to pose a different question. We know that one of the main yesodos of Chanukah is hoda’ah – giving thanks to Hashem. That is why Chazal instituted that we should say Hallel and add into our davening and bentching the tefillah of Al Hanisim.
There is a line in Al Hanisim that seems a bit difficult to understand, and it’s not buried somewhere in the middle – it’s in the first line. “V’al hamilchmos.” We thank Hashem for the milchamos. Milchama – war – is an eis tzara, and many people die in war. Why would we give thanks to Hashem for the war?
Some Rishonim actually have a girsa to read the word without a Vav as “al hatishuos al hamilchamos” – for the yeshuah from the war. However, our girsa to read it with a Vav begs for an explanation.
The Beis Halevi says that one who experiences a yeshuah must thank Hashem not only for the yeshuah but for the tzara as well. This is because one would not have been able to achieve whatever one gained from the yeshuah if they had not gone through the tzara first. Based on this we can explain why we offer hoda’ah for the milchama in Al Hanisim.
However, in line with the yesod we mentioned earlier, perhaps we can add that we are thanking Hashem for giving us the courage and audacity to begin a war in the first place. Think of the odds. Yet they persisted and to the daring and ridiculous move to wage war against the most powerful nation in the world. And as we all know the rest is, as they say, history. But how could they have resolved that this would be a successful mission. The answer is they knew it could not stay as it was and therefore mustered the courage to fight.
This is a very important lesson that we can learn from Chanukah. We need to constantly push ourselves to continue to keep trying and give it our best until we too rid ourselves of what is holding us back and find our pure oil. And when we do find it, it shines bright and lights up the whole world.
May the light of Chanukah and the light of the pure Torah light up the world, and may we see the chanukas Bayis Hashlishi, amen.