Rabbi David DudkevitzThe writer is the rabbi of Yitzhar, located in Samaria (Shomron).
Ask any child, “What do we do on Pesach?” and he will reply, “We eat matzah.” Ask him, “And what do we do on Hanukkah?” and his immediate response will be, “We light the Hanukkah candles.”
However, let us see if the sources support this answer.
The Gemara (BT Shabbat 21b) discusses two Hanukkah miracles - the Hasmonean victory over the Greeks as well as finding the flask of oil which burned for eight days in the Beit Hamikdash – and then concludes:
"לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום ימים טובים בהלל והודאה." “The following year, they set them and established them as festival days with praise and thanksgiving.Because of the miracle, they decreed that all future generations would celebrate these days of festival and hallel (praise)".
Note, however, that the Gemara does not say that they ruled that the generations would light candles! Why not?! Why did Chazal not mention lighting the Hanukkah candles, which many consider to be the holiday's primary mitzvah?!
In fact, the same question also applies to the Al Hanissim prayer, which we recite on Hanukkah during the Amidah (silent prayer) and Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals). Al Hanissim includes the words:
"וקבעו שמונת ימי חנוכה אלו להודות ולהלל לשמך הגדול."
“And they established these eight days of Chanukah to gives thanks and to praise Your great Name.”
Here too, there is no mention of the mitzvah of lighting the Hanukkah candles!
Yet, it would be a mistake to think that Chazal “forgot” about the Hanuklah candles, so let us try to explain this matter one step at a time.
Both the Gemara and Al Hanissim indicate that Chazal incorporated two elements into our Hanukkah observance: hallel (praise) and hoda’ah (thanksgiving). What is the difference between the two? Conventional wisdom holds that hallel refers to the recitation of the Hallel prayer and hoda’ah refers to the recitation of Al Hanissim. However, the answer is far more complex.
There are two ways to praise and thank Hashem for His miracles and wonders:
1. With our mouths. (As we say in the Nishmat prayer, “כי כל פה לך יודה” – “For every mouth shall give thanks to You.”)
2. With our actions.
On Hanukkah, we use our mouths to recite Hallel and Al Hanissim, and we take action by lighting the Hanukkah candles.
These two methods of thanksgiving complement each other. While the spoken hallel and hoda’ah describe and spell out the magnitude of Hashem’s miracles and chassadim (kindnesses), the candles serve as a concrete representation of those same miracles. In other words, our hallel and hoda’ah connect our thoughts and speech to our actions.
A comparison of Al Hanissim and Hallel also serves to distinguish between hallel and hoda’ah. Hallel focuses primarily on the eternal nature of Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s benevolence and miracles:
"חסדי ה' כי תמנו כי לא כלו רחמיו."
“The kindnesses of Hashem never cease; His mercies never end.” (Eichah 3:22)
The core of Hallel is:
"הודו לה' כי טוב כי לעולם חסדו."
“Give thanks to Hashem for He is good; for His kindness is eternal.” (Tehillim 118:1)
Hence, we do not refer to specific miracles – including the Hanukkah miracle – during our recitation of Hallel. (The sole exception is the Exodus from Egypt, because that is the source for reciting Hallel.)
In contrast, Al Hanissim describes the specific miraculous event for which we now give thanks. Therefore, on both Hanukkah and Purim, Al Hanissim includes a detailed description of the great miracle that occurred on that festival.
The two elements of Hanukkah - hallel and hoda’ah – work together. Hallel reminds us that the private miracle comes to teach us a larger lesson – namely, that Hashem is always with us. And hoda’ah – as represented by Al Hanissim – reminds us that Hashem is even willing to reverse the very course of nature and to perform miracles for His beloved children.
Thus, these prayers do not only express gratitude for the past but also convey our faith and hopes for the present and the future. Just as Hashem’s chassadim manifested themselves in glorious wonder during the time of Matityahu and his holy sons, so too, we have faith and anticipate salvation and redemption in our own time. Hence, some prayer books include the following line in Al Hanissim:
"וכשם שעשית עמהם נס, כן עשה עמנו ה' אלוקינו נסים ונפלאות בעת הזאת ונודה לשמך הגדול. סלה."
“And just as You performed a miracle for them, so too, Hashem, our God, perform miracles and wonders for us at this time, and we will thank Your great Name. Sela.”
In conclusion, we express our gratitude with both our speech and our actions – in order to demonstrate that we want all our deeds to reflect our recognition of the Creator and His Divine Providence. Furthermore, we hope to serve Hashem soon in the Beit Hamikdash in the same way: with our mouths and with our deeds. This is the message of Hanukkah, which is when we commemorate the renewal of the Avodah in the Beit Hamikdash – the place where avodat halev (literally, the service of the heart) and avodat hakorbanot (literally, the service of the sacrifices) are joined together; the place where the heavens and the earth meet.
May Hashem perform miracles for us – as He did for our forefathers – speedily and in our days.
Rav Dudkevich’s article contains several important spiritual lessons, including:
Our commemoration of the Hanukkah miracle is not only meant to remind us of this supernatural miracle. Rather, it serves to help us understand, identify, and appreciate the miracles contained within nature. We often overlook these miracles – in spite of the fact that they are right in front of us and are an intrinsic part of our lives:
"שבכל יום עמנו... ערב ובקר וצהרים."
“Which are with us every day… evening and morning and afternoon.” (From the Amidah prayer)
2. Completeness can only be achieved by a combination of speech and action.
3. Our goal must be to ensure that our faith in Hashem is not only manifested in our speech but also in our actions and our entire way of life.
"חשוף זרוע קדשך וקרב קץ הישועה."
“Reveal the force of Your holiness, and hasten the end of the salvation.”
(From Ma’oz Tzur)
Orot College is a religious college of education on two campuses for men and women from across the Land of Israel. Approximately 1,500 students study at Orot to become certified teachers. Alumni of Orot live in England, the US, Canada and of course, Israel.