What is the Real Miracle of Chanukah?

How do you explain the miracle of Chanukah to non-Jews? A popular Facebook suggests one to imagine that their cell phone battery is at 10%, but yet it lasts for eight days. That's the miracle of Chanukah!

The letters of our dreidals are nun, gimmel, dalet, shin, the letters starting each word of Nes gadol hayah sham, a great miracle happened there. In Israel, the rules of the dreidal game are a bit different, as the final letter is apey and not a shin, because in Israel, the phrase is, Nes gadol hayah po, a great miracle happened here.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there are some remarkably specific rules relating to the lighting of the menorah, most of them having to do with miracles.

One of thenm has to do with the Menorahn itself. Have you ever thought, Why is there a shamas candle? It's a bit odd, no? We have to light a separate candle first, and then we use that separate candle, this "helper" candle to light the others.

The reason relates to what the Chanukah candles are meant for. The lights of the menorah, the ones that represent each night of Chanukah, these lights can only be used (the Talmud teaches us) to publicize the miracle. If we're using one of the candles to light another, then we are using it for a mundane purpose, and not a holy one.

Let's say you go home tonight and there is an electrical storm that shuts off all your electricity (God forbid, poo poo). Given that it's the seventh night of Chanukah, there'll be plenty of light around your Menorah. So, can you sit by the Menorah and read a book?

The answer is no. Because again, the lights of the menorah have a special and exclusive purpose - the purpose of publicizing the miracle.

Ok ... so what exactly is the miracle that we're publicizing?!


Spoiler alert - the miracle of Chanukah is not the fact that oil lasted for eight days.

I'm not going to spend time talking about whether or not it's true that the oil lasted for eight days. What I'll say about it is that it's a beautiful midrash. It does the job of engaging our curiosity and instilling a sense of gratitude and wonder. Whether it actually happened or not ... I don't think it really matters.

The real miracle of Chanukah is in the name itself. Chanukah, meaning "rededication." Historically, we know that the Maccabees fought against the assimilation of their Jewish identity. That assimilation came from the Greeks, but it also came from other Jews - Jews that didn't want to identify as Jewish. Jews that didn't want to learn, Jews that didn't want to live Jewish lives. When I think about the Maccabees rededicating the Temple, I think about the possibilities for all us of to do the same - namely, to rededicate ourselves.


One of my favorite Chanukah teachings centers on another Hebrew acronymn. I mentioned last week that the first letters of the words of our prayer, Mi Chamocha, are mem, caf, bet, yud. These spell, Maccabee.

The important miracle of Chanukah is not that God allowed a lamp to burn longer than it should have. The real miracle, the one that all of us can emulate, is taking our Jewish lives and identities into our own hands and creating a unique, special, joyous and meaningful life from the light of Judaism.

That's the miracle of Chanukah. I hope that we continue to publicize the miracle. Shabbat Shalom, and Happy Chanukah.

To Exist or to Live, That is the Question (Vayechi)

Jacob's Ladder (Vayetze)