Chanukah – The Festival of Lights


Kindling the Menorah lamps.




As explained above, "They checked and found nothing but one jug of oil... and there was only enough in it to light one day, yet a miracle occurred and they were able to light from it for eight days."

A question discussed by the early commentators and contemporary Rabbinical authorities is how exactly the Chashmoneans observed the commandment of tending to the lamps and lighting them, since the commandment is to tend to the lamps daily, in a fixed order of actions, as follows:

  1. Each lamp has to be extinguished every morning
  2. To clean out the lamp; take out the burnt wick and the remaining oil
  3. To place everything in the "place of the ashes" to the east side of the ramp of the altar
  4. Wash and polish the lamp at the top of the menorah
  5. At the end of the cleaning, the lamps are returned to the branches of the Menorah, a half a log (Talmudic measurement) of oil is filled into it, and a new wick is placed inside
    This operation is done in two stages: Five lamps are prepared in the beginning of the morning, and two lamps later in the morning.
  6. There is a special order of lighting and extinguishing the 'Western lamp' of the Menorah

In the event that the 'tending to the lamps' was not performed, as stated - the kohanim forfeited this commandment which must be done daily, according to the Torah. 22

In light of the above, one must ask: How did the miracle of the oil burning continuously for eight days take place when it is an obligatory Torah commandment to extinguish each lamp daily and replace the used oil with new oil?

Indeed, because of this, both the early and later commentators wrote that the Chashmoneans fulfilled the commandment as per the article, and divided the pure oil into eight daily portions, and each day the new oil of that day was lit. 23

Kohanim cleaning out the defiled Temple Sanctuary. A kohen in the center of the picture holds up the single jug of pure oil.




From a halachic standpoint, as discussed by contemporary scholars, the miracle of the pure oil only started from day two. Because it is obvious that the oil would be enough for the first day, shouldn't the holiday only last seven days?

It is written:

"The reason that it was necessary to use that one jar of pure oil to light for eight days is that all of Israel were presumed to be of a status of impurity as a result of coming in contact with the dead… One could ask, why did they establish a celebration of gratitude for eight days? Since there was enough pure oil in the sealed jar to light for one night, then didn't the miracle actually take place for seven nights?" 24

There are many explanations offered in response, such as, "On the first night, they put all the oil the jug contained into the lamps and they stayed lit the entire night. When morning came, the lamps were found to still be full of oil, and this happened every night." 25 According to this opinion, that the oil lasted without change for eight days, the kohanim (priests) did not observe the commandment of tending to the lamps of the Menorah in the Holy Temple during this eight day period. Necessary actions which were forfeited, according to this approach: The command of extinguishing the wick that was lit all night, spilling out the remaining oil and the used wick into the 'place of the ashes' to the east of the ramp of the altar, relighting the lamps and the Western Lamp. Because it was the same flame as the day before, this miracle canceled out all regular necessary protocols.

Contrary to this opinion, there is another contemporary opinion presented that states that the Chashmoneans knew how to utilize their small jug of oil economically.

As is stated, "They divided the oil they found in the jug into eight parts [in order to fully perform the commandment of tending to the lamps] and placed one portion in the Menorah each night, and it burned until morning. Thus, a miracle occurred every night." 26

Similarly, this opinion is expressed in the writings of the early commentators: "When Israel overcame its enemies… and they entered into the Sanctuary, they only found one jug of pure oil that only had enough for one night [and divided it into eight parts] and lit from it the lamps for eight days, until they were able to crush olives and extract pure oil." 27

A kohen holding a jug of pure olive oil, produced by the Temple Institute.




From the words of the Sages, discussing the resumption of the Temple service in the days of the Chashmoneans, they point out the evident eagerness of the Chashmoneans to advance and speed up the renewal of the Temple Service as much as possible.

Lighting the Candles:

In regards to the lighting of the Menorah with pure oil, is clear from the description in the words of the Sages, that although they found a jug of oil that was enough for only one day, and they knew that if they lit it, they would have to wait eight days until they could attain additional pure oil, nevertheless, they decided to start the lighting immediately, as soon as possible. As is said with the performance of every commandment, "When the opportunity to keep a commandment is presented before you - do not miss it" 28 This was as not to delay the commencement of the service in the Temple even for one day.

According to the method that says that they divided the amount of pure oil for eight days - in this act, the Chashmoneans taught that one should hasten the fulfillment of the commandment, even if it is fulfilled partially - with an eighth of the oil they found - provided that the service is held at its appointed time.



Regarding the material and shape of the Menorah itself, the Chashmoneans hastened to fulfill the commandment of lighting a Menorah with a Menorah they made from iron skewers.

It is clear that the choicest way to perform the commandment is to light a Menorah of gold, as written in the Torah. Even so, because of the obligation to light immediately, they decided to abide by the ruling of the Sages, which allows to perform the commandment of lighting a Menorah made from rods of iron, 29 something that had never been done before; not in the Tabernacle, not in Solomon's Temple, and not when the second Temple was built.



Additionally, with regard to the altar, the Chashmoneans acted with great stamina. According to what is described in 'Megilat Ta'anit,' the preparations for the construction of the altar began on the twenty-third of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. 30 On this day, the Chashmonean forces overpowered the Greeks, and when they put the altar that had been defiled in a side chamber of the Temple, they established a day of rejoicing. It is written that "they found good [whole] stones there and they discussed this issue [meaning, the court discussed whether to leave them as part of the rebuilt altar or to discard them, for the Greeks had defiled them]. It was decided to store them away. And they are laid up until this day - until Elijah comes and rules if they are impure [invalid] or if they are pure [and fit for the altar]."

The fact that there were Sages who demanded to leave the whole stones as part of the new altar, shows that they wanted to speed up the building of the altar, despite the doubt regarding the question of the permissible status of its stones.

However, after the Chashmonean court decided to disassemble those stones of the altar and store them away, they hastily acted to rebuild the altar, as is described in the continuation of Megilat Ta'anit: "they rebuilt the altar and plastered it, and placed the vessels into the Holy Temple. They were involved with it [the reconstruction and restoration] for eight days" and on the twenty-fifth of the Hebrew month of Kislev they celebrated the dedication of the altar. It is evident, that erecting an altar of whole stones that are carefully collected for a large altar thirty-two cubits wide and sixty cubits long, including the ramp - and ten cubits high, and within just eight days, involves great effort. Additionally, lime had to be poured between its stones in order to strengthen the structure and it had to dry completely. The preparation of such an altar is a great undertaking. This entire operation is a testimony to the enormous alacrity of the Chashmoneans, which is a miracle and a wonder in and of itself.