Many miracles have occurred for the Jewish People over the years, and the Rabbis did not institute a holiday for each of them. So why did they institute a holiday for the miracles of Chanuka? What was different about them?
Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Bagdad, also known as the Ben Ish Chai, points out something unusual about the wording of the Talmudic passage that discusses the holiday of Chanuka. It is stated in Masechet Shabbat 21a: “The following year the Sages established the days of Chanuka, declaring it an official holiday.” He asks: Why didn’t the Rabbis institute the holiday in the first year, when the miracles occurred?
The Men of the Great Assembly were able to see things as they were above in their spiritual source. They experienced ruach hakodesh ― a form of Divine communication. Thus, with this form of prophetic vision they were able to perceive a return of the revelation of a special Divine light, a light that was shining in Heaven the preceding year, and which was involved in the occurrence of the miracles of Chanuka. They understood that in Heaven it was decreed that this light return each year, and so they instituted these same days as a holiday below, in this world. This is similar to the days of Purim, of which it is said, “These days are remembered above (in Heaven) and fulfilled below (on earth).”
With this special understanding of why Chanuka was made into a holiday, we can better appreciate the essence of a “Jewish holiday”. Chanuka is not just a time to light candles and enjoy the donuts and latkes. Time is an ongoing circle; each year we come back to the special spiritual strength of Chanuka, which helps us to be victorious over our spiritual enemies. The self-sacrifice of Mattityahu and the Chashmonaim in those days serves as a sign, and helps to channel Divine assistance in our times as well.
A Jewish holiday is not merely a commemoration of something that happened “Once upon a time”. It is a celebration of something taking place in the present. Chanuka, as is with all Jewish holidays, happens each year anew. When we light the Chanuka candles this year, let us take a moment to contemplate the fact that — at the very same moment —
“Blessed are You, Hashem, our