Why Is Chanukah 8 Days?
One of the interesting aspects of living in Jerusalem are the constant encounters with Jewish history.
For example, one of the Light Rail stops is Shimon HaTzadik, named after one of the High Priests.
When the train pulls into that station I often have two thoughts.
My first thought is usually a piece of personal mussar: he became known as HaTzadik. Will I obtain such a level?
My second thought, especially this time of year, is very different. Here’s a man who is mentioned in the Mishna and the Gemara. He was an important figure in Jewish life. He never celebrated Chanukah, because he lived before those events.
The Gemara (Shabbat 21b) explains part of the historical background to Chanukah. Here’s the Soncino translation of that passage:
1 or 7 or 8?
Why is Chanukah celebrated for eight days?
This is one of the famous questions about the holiday. Many different answers are given.
The question is based on the idea that the flask of oil would have burned for one day. That is “natural.” Therefore, the “miracle” is the fact that the oil lasted for seven additional days. Based on this analysis, Chanukah should only be seven days long.
The Pri Chadash explains that the we also celebrate the military victory by the Hasmonean’s. If we only celebrated the victory, then Chanukah would be one day. If we only celebrated the miracle of the oil, then Chanukah would be seven days long.
We celebrate both and therefore Chanukah is eight days.
Why Insist on Pure?
Why was it important for the Hasmonean’s to use undefiled oil for lighting the menorah?
There is a principle of “tuma hutra betzibbur” (impure objects are permitted for communal purposes). If only defiled oil was available, then the Hasmoneans could have used that oil.
In other words, there was no need for God to perform a miracle and have the flask of pure oil last for eight days.
Here is the answer given by Rabbi David Brofsky in his book Hilkhot Mo’adim:
I hope this brief excerpt from Hilkhot Mo’adim helps make your Chanukah celebration a little bit brighter.
Disclosure: I was given a review copy of Hilkhot Mo’adim – Understanding the Laws of the Festivals by the publisher, Maggid Books.
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