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Chanukah: Why 8 Days? (With 18 Answers)

By Rabbi Yosef Tropper

Posted on 12/14/17

The Famous Question


We all know the famous question of the Beis Yosef (Orach Chaim 670) as to why we celebrate Chanukah for 8 days if the miracle of the oil was only 7 days, because the jug contained enough oil to burn for one day. This question was already asked by Tosfos HaRosh and Meiri (Shabbos 21a), commentators that Beis Yosef did not have access to in his time.


I’m going to offer you 18 answers, but before that, allow me to share two thoughts based on Ramban alone, and then a third thought which is an answer to the above question based on Ramban as well as 17 other answers.


1) The Sin of the Chashmonaim


The Chashmonaim were a great family of Kohanim, and they led the Jewish battle and protected their people. They were great activists and very righteous; they led their brothers and sisters to overcome the Greeks. We know that about a third of the Jews became hellenized, and joined the Greek movement; it was just too hard for them to be able to hold themselves back from joining that “enlightenment” so to speak, but much of the nation was lost.


The Greeks were trying to destroy the Jewish soul. They didn’t care – once you converted then you were accepted.  It wasn’t like the Nazis that they just wanted you dead because you were Jewish, and it wasn’t like the story of Purim either where it was just “l’ihashmim, l’harog u’liabeid” against your body.  But, this was a spiritual assimilation where the Greeks were trying to take over the Jewish ideology and destroy all that the Jews held dear.


So, the Chashmonaim came, and they were a great, great, amazing family, and they took over the war, and with their piety and tzidkus they battled and they led the Jewish people to victory.  They got back the Beis HaMikdash, and that’s where the miracle took place.  They found the one pach shemen they lit, etc., etc.  We all know the story.


Ramban (end of Parshas Vayichi) on the pasuk of the bracha Yehuda got from Yaakov Aveinu.  “Lo yasur shevet meiYehuda, mechokeik mibein raglav” explains.  Yehuda is going to be the leader forever.  We know that David HaMelech comes from Yehuda, and his dynasty is forever, and melech hamashiach ben David will come from Yehuda.  So, the Ramban makes a comment that even though the Chashmonaim were great people, however, during the Bayis Sheni [It was actually the year 213 out of 420 of the Bayis Sheni when the story of Chanukah took place.]  at that time the Chashmonaim took over the kingdom, and proclaimed themselves kings, and it’s for that reason that Hashem decreed that they be destroyed.  So, despite what they did, and the Ramban says without them the Jewish people, their hishtadlus is what saved the Jewish people al pi derecho hateva.  Well, it was a neis, but they were the ones that did this hishtadlus,  


This is based on the Gemara Megilla 11a.  It seems to say that if not for the Chashmonaim, Mattityahu Kohen Gadol and his sons, the Jewish people would have been destroyed.  Yet, they were punished very, very severely that they were wiped out.  And, four of the sons that took over Yehuda, Elazar, Yonason and Shimon, they were all eventually killed by the enemy.  And, not only that, but many of them were killed by their own servants.  In fact, the gemara in Bava Basra says that anyone that says that they come from the Chashmonai family is only a slave because that’s all that was left.


So, it needs to be understood.  What’s going on?  Ramban says that they should not have made themselves king.  The kingdom was given to Yehuda. They were amazing leaders.  They were amazing generals. They were amazingly righteous people, but they should have maintained that copacity, and not tried to take the kingdom away from Yehuda.  Additionally, Ramban says that they should have remained teachers to Klal Yisrael, and kohanim whose job is to upkeep the Torah and to teach the Jews and to serve Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash, and he bases this on a Yerushalmi which seems to explicitly say that there were two offenses that they did.  One of them was that they took over the kingdom from Yehuda and the other one is that they forsook their avodas Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash.  


Lesson Learned


We learn a very powerful lesson which is that Hashem expects us to follow the roles that He sets up for us, and if there’s a rule that is made that Yehuda is going to be the king, then a person is not allowed to change that.  And, no matter how great the person is, when they are going against ratzon Hashem, and when they are being mevateil that gezeirah of how Hashem set it up that it needs to be shevet Yehuda as the leader, and when they go against and stop serving Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash and stop doing their capacities as Kohanim there’s a tremendous punishment that comes their way no matter how great they are.  And, it’s just something to think about in life that what does Hashem want from us, and what is my mission and what is my role?


Of course, in our lives, hopefully, our lives are not in danger if we’re not doing it, but our purpose in life is to really get focused on what we’re trying to do, and every light in the candle of Chanukah needs to be separate.  It cannot be overlapping to show us that each person needs to be their own individual and find their path towards service of Hashem.  That’s one thought.


2) Aharon’s Reward Explained


Another thought is the famous Ramban in Parshas Beha’alosicha es haneiros where the Ramban brings down there’s a famous medrash.  The medrash says that why is the parsha of the menorah written right next to the nesiim, which is parshas Naso that precedes Beha’alosicha, and the medrash Rashi brings down, the Ramban, we’ll see, is going to argue with Rashi, but Rashi brings down that Ahron saw the dedication of the princes, and he felt bad that he was not part of it, and so Hashem said to him: Don’t worry Ahron, your’s is greater than theirs.  You will light and prepare the candles.  So, the Ramban understood that Rashi was saying that: Aharon Hakohen, you’re going to light the candles every day in the menorah.  But, the Ramban has a couple of questions on this, but the most famous question is: How did that pacify Aharon?  Why did Aharon specifically get the candles?  He could have gotten the ketores or any other avodah that he did every day.  The medrash doesn’t seem to be understood.  


Ramban says that this medrash is hinting explicitly to the menorah of the Chanukah story: that your descendants will continue to inspire the miracles and the yom tov of Chanukah, and that will last forever.  And, so that’s why your lot is even greater than their’s because theirs is for the mishkan, and the mishkan will stop, even the Beis HaMikdash will stop until mashiach comes at some point.  But, the Chanukah candles will last forever.  And, that was the zechus that Aharon had because of his longing.


We find this theme by Chanukah as well.  That when someone longs to do a mitzvah and longs to do something right this is where greatness comes from.  The Jewish people didn’t want to bring a pach shemen that was tameih even though they could have.  “Tumah hutrah b’tzibor, or dechuya b’tzibor”.  They could have used something that was tameih, but they didn’t want.  They wanted to do it better.  And, that’s where Chanukah comes from.  So, when we have that desire.  We want to do ratzon Hashem; we want to do it the best way possible, that’s when the miracle of Chanukah comes in.  That’s the merit that Aharon brought down by his longing.


3) Eighteen Answers to Why 8 Days?


The famous question is based on a couple of premises, but one of the premises is, specifically, that there was no miracle on day one of the burning of the shemen because there was enough of it to burn for one night.  There were only seven days of miracles, so what’s the p’shat?


So, I heard from my dear rebbe, Rav Asher Zelig Rubinstein zt”l, and I’ve heard this from other people as well, that if you look at the Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo, very classical Ramban.  And, hopefully, we’ll spend time with it in Parshas Bo as well.  The Ramban says what’s the p’shat in all the ten makos and the miracles that Hashem did by taking the Jews out of Mitzrayim?  And, he says that the purpse of all the mitzvos is so that we should believe in Hashem, and he says, “U’min hanisim hagedolim, hamefursamim.”  When a person sees large miracles that take place, “adam modeh b’nissim hanistarim,” that brings a person to a recognition of the hidden nissim that take place.  Meaning, that the ikur thing in life is not the big nissim that took place.  Oh wow, Hashem took us out of Egypt.  No.  That’s an impatice, a springboard to help us recognize: Wow, that’s an amazing miracle, but wait a minute.  We’re supposed to take a step back and say: Hashem does miracles with us every day.  The entire existence of tevah is a miracle.  The fact that Hashem decreed that something should grow naturally is a miracle in it of itself.  Who said that if we plant something it should just grow.  Who said that we should be able to breath every day, and that our body should function every day?  And, when we start to recognize that even the small things, even tevah is in itself a miracle, that’s the greatest achievement in life because then we recognize that Hashem is guiding us all day long.  It’s not just the miracles that wake us up.  Miracles are a springboard to help us recognize, but the tevah itself is coming from Hashem.  And, that’s the ultimate recognition that we’re trying to reach, and so therefore, based on this Ramban, it’s brilliant.  What happened was the Jews had this miracle that the pach shemen burned for seven days.  That was a miracle.  It wasn’t al pi nature, and from that miracle they recognized, wait a minute, even the one time that it burnt, that was also a miracle.  Just teva itself is a miracle.  And, so the entire theme, purpose of celebrating Chanukah is to recognize that yes, that Hashem does miracles for us, and that wakes us up to recognize His presence and his greatness, but the main thing that we’re supposed to recognize is that Hashem is guiding every moment  and every second of our lives, and even teva is in itself a miracle, and that is how I’ve seen many people apply this p’shat of the Ramban to answer that question.


Now, I’m going to give you seventeen other answers.   


1. The Jews knew that it would take eight days to get new oil and so they split the oil they had found into eight even portions and thus they saw a miracle on the first night as it continued to burn all night!


2. After they filled the menorah up on the first night, they saw that the oil had not been diminished.


3. The extra day is in celebration of their victory over the Greeks or for the miracle that they found the oil with a proper seal in the first place.


4. The Maharsha says that the menorah cups themselves were broken and unable to be filled up with one day’s worth and still burned an entire day despite the fact that it was missing some of its regular oil amount.


5. Rabbi Yaakov Emden says the first day celebrates the dedication of the Second Beis Hamikdash being built.


6. According to some versions of the text in the Geonic Sheiltos, it reads, “there was not even enough oil to burn for one day.” Others say this is a printing mistake.


7. The original wicks lasted all day instead of only a few hours.


8. When the miracle happened, Kislev had 29 days, but now it has 30 days and thus we want to observe the holiday until 2 Teves, even though it is now 8 days instead of 7 (Chasam Sofer).


9. Chidushei Harim says that the bottle only contained enough oil for one light, not for the entire menorah, and miraculously it was used for the entire menorah for 8 days.


10. It is prohibited to replicate the Temple’s utensils (to make a menorah with 7 branches) and thus we had to celebrate 8 days.


11. The story of Chanukah occurred on Shabbos and thus the Jews lit before Shabbos and needed more oil for the first day, yet it still burned for the entire first day as regular.


12. For a miracle to occur, there must be something to start with just as Eishes Ovadya was told by Elisha to pour the oil which she already had and it would not stop until she ran out of vessels, so too, the Jews left over some oil on the first day so they would have for the second night and it miraculously burned the entire time.


13. The menorah had to be rebuilt, but a new vessel absorbs some of the oil into its wall, thus on the first night, there really was not sufficient oil, yet, it still burned the entire time.


14. The Greeks tried to stop the Jews from keeping Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and Bris Milah. To show our victory, Chanukah always contains at least one Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh (Teves) and the number eight hints to Bris (performed on the eighth day).


15. The Chasam Sofer says that the oil was only enough to be burned for one day indoors. However, as a way of announcing their victory, the Jews lit the Menorah outside (“V’hidleku neiros b’chatzros kadshecha”!) Hence, because of the wind (which caused more oil to be consumed), it should not have even lasted for the first day! So the miracle was really for eight days!


16. The Rambam holds that you must light twice a day. The portion that they found was only enough for one lighting, however it miraculously burned for longer!


17. The word “Shemona, eight” hints to the idea of “Shemen, oil” that is pressed and extracted from olives. The text calls the Jews “Bnei Binah”. The wisdom of Binah is extrapolation. Eight hints to something above seven, nature. That is what the holiday is all about. Chanukah is the celebration of Torah Shel Baal Peh, the Torah that must be worked for with great effort. (based on Rav Hutner)


[18. Just to review: The very fact that oil burns is also a miracle! Chanukah is a time for recognizing all that Hashem does for us and not to take anything for granted.  (That’s like we spoke about based on the Ramban.)]


So, those are eighteen total answers about why Chanukah is eight days.


I once heard the following from my dear rebbe at Ner Yisrael, Rabbi Nachum Lansky shlit”a: “It is most apropos that just as the small jug of oil that they found sprouted forth even larger quantities from it, so too, this small question sprouts forth many insights about Chanukah.”




Happy Chanukah!


Wishing everybody a freilichin Chanukah, a lichtega Chanukah, a Chanukah filled with recognition of the purpose in life, of satisfaction, happiness, family time, and personal growth, and family and community growth.  May this Chanukah bring light to us and all of our families.




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Rabbi Yosef Tropper is a rav and psychotherapist. Learn more and subscribe at ParshaThemes.com