On all eight days of Chanukah we recite a complete Hallel. Most assume that the reason for this obligation is to praise Hashem for the miracle of the oil since the last usable jug of pure oil lasted for eight days instead of just one.
The Maharal (commenting on Shabbat 21b) is bothered by this obligation to sing Hallel on Chanukah. The Maharal points out that the obligation to recite Hallel is a salvation that the Jewish people experienced (see Pesachim 118a). We don’t find an obligation to recite Hallel because of our ability to perform a Mitzvah. Throughout Jewish history where for a myriad of reasons the Jews could not perform certain Mitzvot. However, we do not find an obligation of Hallel when they specifically could. After all, had we not have found the requisite oil, we would have surely been exempt from the Mitzvah to light the Menorah, as we are not responsible for those things which are beyond our control (Oneis Rachmana Patrei).
The Maharal explains that in truth Hallel is sung to praise God for our military victory. In a war which we had no chance of winning, we emerged victorious. In fact, Al HaNisim, which we recite in Tefillah and Birkat HaMazon, is almost entirely dedicated to the miracle of the war. However, explains the Maharal, if not for the miracle of the oil, people would have attributed the victory to our military prowess. Granted, we were the underdogs, but upsets happen throughout history. Perhaps we had better strategy than theirs, which led us to victory. It was only through the recognition of the outright miracle of the oil that we were able to realize that the military victory was also a miracle.
It is often not until we see an open miracle that we are able to see hidden miracles. Often, when a sick individual regains their health, they begin to realize how miraculous it is that our bodies work in the way that they do. Ramban (at the end of Parshat Bo) writes that it is through the open and public miracles that a person can recognize concealed miracles.
Chanukah is a time when we break down the barriers between that which we view as miraculous and that which we think is nature. The Maharal teaches us that the victory in war was a miracle as well. In reality, what seems to be Teva (nature) is also a Nes (miracle).
This theme of Chanukah manifests itself in the miracle of the oil as well. We know that we celebrate Chanukah for eight days because of the miracle of the oil. Although the flask of oil should have supplied enough oil only for one day, it miraculously lasted for eight days. The Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim 670) poses a well known question. Surely, oil that should last one day yet lasts eight is miraculous, but how long did the miracle itself last? The Beit Yosef points out that, in truth, the miracle of the oil was only seven days long. But if this is the case, why do we celebrate Chanukah for a full eight days?
There are many answers to this question. In fact, there is a Sefer that offers as many as one hundred answers to this question. I believe that based on a penetrating insight from the Alter Mikelm we can offer yet another answer. The Alter MiKelm (Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv Broida, one of the foremost students of Rav Yisrael Salanter and one of the primary figures of the Mussar movement) offers the following insight. In truth, there was nothing so wondrous about oil burning for eight days. Just as the Almighty made it so that oil will burn for one day, he can make it burn for eight days. The Alter explains that the very fact that oil burns is a miracle. However, since we have become accustomed to seeing oil burn, we no longer are in awe when we see it happen. Man usually fails to be awed or inspired by that which he constantly experiences or sees. However, this is not the correct attitude. Even those things that can be explained by science or nature are really from HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
Based on the Alter’s insight, the difficulty raised by the Beit Yosef can be resolved. Granted, the oil burned for only seven more days than it should have. However, we celebrate one additional day to signify and celebrate the very fact that oil burns, since that too is miraculous. It was only through the obvious miracle of oil burning an extra seven days that we were able to see the miracle of oil burning.
As mentioned above, one of the messages of Chanukah is to see past the mask of nature and recognize that everything comes from Hashem. The military victory was not attained because we were stronger or smarter than our enemy. Oil does not just burn because nature states that it should. Rather, both of these, and everything else in the world, come directly from Hashem. The fact that oil burnt on the first day should inspire us to realize this, and all of the wonders of Hashem.
We light the candles on Chanukah at night until “SheTichleh Regel Min HaShuk,” “until the feet cease from returning from the market place.” In the Sefer Hashgachah Pratit (on Parashat Hashuva and Yom Tov) the author suggests that perhaps this statement can also be understood not only until “Regel” ceases, but also until “Hergel,” the normality of things, ceases. We light the candles until we realize that nothing happens by itself. Though there are many things that we see all the time and therefore are not awed by their occurrences, the reality is that they too are miracles.