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Ask your average person what the nes of Chanukah was - invariably the answer will be the following - how upon entering the Bais Hamikdosh the Yidden discovered that everything was made tamei by the Yevanim. However in the end, the Kohanim found one sealed container of pure oil - enough to burn for one day. Yet it burned on and on for eight days.
Examining the Tefila of Al Hanisim however, we do not any mention of the nes of the oil. We see mention of the military victory - many in the hands of few, resha’im won over by Tzadikim. The Yevanim tried to make us give up the Torah and Hashem saved us from their hands. Noticeably absent, is any mention of the small flask of oil that burned for eight days.
Explanation is needed.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that without a doubt the most important thing that happened was that Hashem saved the Yidden. No more would we be at the mercy of the Yevanim and their evil decrees. The nes of the oil - while definitely something special wasn’t a necessity; after all, the Halacha is that when the entire tzibur is impure they are allowed to use impure oil. Besides, it had been some time since the Menorah was last lit in the Bais Hamikdosh….. Would it have been so terrible to wait until they procured pure oil to light the Menorah as proscribed?
Keeping this in mind the question returns. If lighting the menorah with Tahor oil at that time wasn’t crucial, why do we choose to commemorate the Nes of Chanukah with the Menorah?
Rav Chaim explains with a mashal. If one were to walk into a room and observe a woman changing a baby – it might be difficult for him to know for certain whether she’s a babysitter or the child’s mother - there’s no way of knowing. However if when she’s finished she gives the baby a kiss we can be sure it’s the mother.
A child has much to be thankful for - the mother changes the baby, dresses and feeds it - but that’s not what makes the baby happy and smile. It’s when the mother kisses the baby that he feels and appreciates his mother’s love.
So to with the Nes of Chanukah. There was no doubt that Hashem would save us. Hashem promised that the Torah would never be lost from the Jewish people. The pach shemen however was something extra - something that was not necessary for the survival of the Jewish people and yet Hashem gave it to us. A special kiss from our Father in Heaven, and it’s that kiss that clearly expresses Hashem’s love for us.
Of course we are thankful to Hashem for saving us from the Yevanim - and for that Chazal composed the tefilla of Al Hanissim. But for Hashem’s extra kiss of the pach shemen, we say thank you with the Menorah - by lighting a new candle every night and by going the extra mile to make this mitzva special - in appreciation of the Nes of the pach shemen, because that is where we see Hashem's love shining through.
The Gemorah in Shabbos tell us that the mitzvah of Chanukah is for each household to light one candle each night of Chanukah. A family who wants to fulfill this mitzvah “l’mihadrin” has everyone in the house light a candle every night. Those who want to perform the mitzva in a “mehadrin min hamihadrin” fashion start the first night with one candle and add a candle each night, lighting eight candles each on the last night of Chanukah.
We are not satisfied at merely performing this mitzvah in a “mehadrin min hamihadrin” way. One could use regular candles – but we try to find the best, purest olive oil, wool wicks, and of course a beautiful silver menorah!
Why do we do this? Where else do we find a concept of going so far beyond what is required by Halacha? One candle per night is sufficient for the mitzvah of Chanukah - yet we go on, seeking more and more hidurim to make this mitzvah as special as possible – and this is only a mitzvah d’rabanan!
Chazal tell us that when Klal Yisroel left Mitzrayim and entered the Yam Suf, Hashem performed all typed of spectacular nissim for Klal Yisroel; there were even sweets and delicacies available for the picking from the walls of the sea!
Here too we need to ask, why? What was the point? We just left Mitzrayim! Centuries of slavery were finally behind us! We saw the mighty Egyptians crushed by the ten plagues. As Klal Yisroel approached the Yam Suf even the lowliest maidservant was exposed to Nissim greater than those seen by the Navi Yechezkal. And yet, despite all these incredible miracles, the Torah sees fit to stress that we received candies!!! Who cares about candies when you just walked through the ocean?!!!?
However, the truth is that even after all these wonderful Nissim, Klal Yisroel might still be wondering “Why did Hashem take us out of Mitzrayim?”
There were two possible answers to that question. Either because Hashem has promised Avrohom Avinu that he would take us out and so He did, even if we weren’t deserving - because a promise is a promise. Or - possible reason number two; Hashem loves us and that is why He took us out of Mitzrayim – no more, no less.
Which would explain why He gave us sweets - those extra gifts that weren’t necessary. He did it for one reason, to show us His love. Hashem wasn’t doing this because He had to, but because He wanted to……. He wanted us to feel the love He has for us.
At that moment what did we do? We returned that very love to Hashem!
There is one mitzvah that Klal Yisroel tries very hard to keep, yet it’s a mitzvah that Hashem never gave us. We say it every day in Davening; “Ze Kali V’anveihu.” After Kriyas Yam Suf, Klal Yisroel sang Shira to Hashem and promised to reciprocate the great love that exists between us, back to Hashem.
Hiddur Mitzvah, Hashem never asked us to do this for Him, yet we do so on our own initiative and volition - to show Hashem that we love him, and we are happy to do His Mitzvos. More than that – we actually want to do His Mitzvos and are not merely doing so out of obligation.
And so when it comes to Chanukah we go above and beyond, to acknowledge the love that Hashem showed us and to try in our own small way to show him that we too love him. We take that small mitzvah d’rabanan and make it beautiful, adding a candle of oil every night – for each member of the family, not because we have to – but because we want to!
(Adapted from Rav Nissan Kaplan’s Kesher Shel Kayama)