The Torah reading on Chanukah comes from the second half of Parashat Naso, which deals with the Korbanot that the Nesi’im brought at the beginning of the Mishkan’s operation. As a whole, the Nesi’im’s Korbanot consist of three parts:
1. Wagons for the Leviyim to use
2. Utensils of gold and silver filled with Ketoret and Korbenot Minchah
3. Animals for Korbenot Olah, Chatat, and Shelamim
The Torah makes a clear division between part 1 and parts 2-3. The Torah states only once that the Nesi’im brought wagons (BeMidbar 7:3), and it first mentions the overall quantity of the wagons (6 wagons with 12 oxen) and then the division to the level of the individual Nasi (a wagon for every two Nesi’im and an ox for each one). The story of the donation of the wagons continues through Pasuk 9. Then, starting in Pasuk 10, the Nesi’im bring the Korbanot of parts 2-3. These Korbanot are first delineated twelve times, one for each Nasi, and only afterward totaled.
Rashi (7:10 s.v. VaYakrivu HaNesi’im Et Chanukat HaMizbei’ach) explains the significance of this division. He differentiates between two stages of the Nesi’im’s Korbanot: the donation of objects that would be used in the Mishkan (wagons of part 1) and the initiation of the Avodah in the Mishkan (Korbanot of parts 2-3).
The first stage is essentially a continuation of the donation for the building of the Mishkan that started in Parashat Terumah: just as materials must be donated for the building of the Mishkan, materials must be donated for future use in the Mishkan. Rashi (7:3 s.v. VaYakrivu Otam Lifnei HaMishkan) makes this connection clear in quoting the Midrash that the Nesi’im had delayed in donating for the building of the Mishkan until there was barely anything needed; to fix this mistake, they were the first to donate when the Mishkan needed wagons. It is important to note that Rashi quotes this Midrash in the context of part 1, not parts 2-3; he thus defines part 1 as the continuation of the donation in Parashat Terumah.
The second stage, on the other hand, is defined by the Torah as “Chanukat HaMizbei’ach.” As Rashi (BeReishit 14:14) points out, this refers to the initiation of the use of the Mizbei’ach. The Korbanot of parts 2-3 were not donated for future use; rather, they were brought immediately upon the Mizbei’ach as a ceremonial induction of the Mizbei’ach into service.
This explains the difference in the acceptance of the Korbanot. The Korbanot of part 1 were accepted all at once and are therefore described by the Torah only once, because there is no reason to delay acceptance of a donation. The Korbanot of the second stage, however, must be brought by only one Nasi per day (7:11). This graduated offering is necessary to create an atmosphere of a ceremony. This also explains why the Torah seemingly unnecessarily repeats the Korbanot twelve times – it wants to let the readers experience the Mizbei’ach’s initiation ceremony as well.
The above adequately explains the difference between the wagon Korbanot (part 1) and the animal Korbanot (part 3). The Korbanot of part 2, however, seem out of place. Indeed, they do include a Minchah and Ketoret, and they are placed in the initiation stage, suggesting that they are part of the offerings of Chanukat HaMizbei’ach. On the other hand, the Torah’s focus on these Korbanot is not on the Minchah and Ketoret but on the Keilim in which they are brought! To quantify the Korbanot, the Torah does not measure by the Isaron, a volume of flour (as it usually does for Korbenot Minchah), but by the Shekel, a weight measure for silver and gold. The wording of the Torah also emphasizes the Keilim – the Torah does not mention, for example, “Ketoret BeChaf Achat Zahav,” “Ketoret in one golden spoon,” but “Kaf Achat Asarah Zahav Melei’ah Ketoret,” “One golden spoon, weighing ten Shekel, full of Ketoret” – the focus is upon the Kaf Achat, not upon the Ketoret. The focus on the Keilim is even more clear in the summary of the Korbanot, in which the Torah does not even mention the Minchah (although it does mention the Ketoret), and instead of totaling an amount of flour, it specifically totals the amounts of silver and gold brought to the Mishkan (“Kol Kesef HaKeilim… Kol Zehav HaKappot…” (7:85-86). It seems clear that the main part of the Korbanot of part 2 was the Keilim, the physical wealth that the Nesi’im donated. If that is the case, however, it appears that part 2 is more similar to part 1 than to part 3: the Keilim are donated for future use in the Mishkan. The focus on silver and gold is reminiscent of the beginning of Parashat Pekudei, in which the Torah totals the amounts of silver and gold donated for the building of the Mishkan; it appears that the Korbanot of the Keilim in part 2, like the Korbanot of the wagons, are a continuation of that donation.
The categorization of these Korbanot is now incredibly ambiguous and, in fact, contradictory. If the focus of these Korbanot were truly on the initiation of the Mizbei’ach, of course the Torah would have emphasized what was actually brought on the Mizbei’ach: the Minchah and Ketoret. Thus, the focus of these Korbanot must have been a donation for future use, like the wagons. If that were the case, however, the Torah would have grouped it with the wagons before Chanukat HaMizbei’ach and would not have repeated it twelve times. Thus, it now seems that the Torah views these Korbanot as part of initiating the Mizbei’ach. Why does the Torah send conflicting messages about the gold and silver Keilim the Nesi’im brought?
The answer may be found in a parallel ceremony, the Chanukat Beit HaMikdash HaRishon. Sefer Melachim Aleph (8:64) relates, “BaYom HaHu Kidash HaMelech Et Toch HeChatzeir Asher Lifnei Veit Hashem Ki Asah Sham Et HaOlah VeEt HaMinchah VeEit Chelvei HaShelamim Ki Mizbach HaNechoshet Asher Lifnei Hashem Katon MeiHachil Et HaOlah VeEt HaMinchah VeEit Chelvei HaShelamim,” “On that day the king (Shlomoh) sanctified the middle of the courtyard that was in front of the Beit HaMikdash, for he offered there the Olah, the Minchah, and the Shelamim, since the copper Mizbei’ach before Hashem was too small for [the vast quantities of] the Olah, the Minchah, and the Shelamim.” The Meforashim debate whether Shlomoh built a stone Mizbei’ach in the courtyard or actually sanctified the floor of the courtyard with the Kedushah of a Mizbei’ach. Either way, why did Shlomoh do this? The Pasuk presents a practical reason: the extant Mizbei’ach was too small. It is possible, however, that we can learn something more fundamental from Shlomoh: part of the idea of Chanukah, initiation, is the spreading of Kedushah to other items. Not only did Shlomoh initiate Avodah in the Beit HaMikdash, he also had the Kedushah spread to the courtyard.
This idea may explain Chanukat HaMizbei’ach as well. The Keilim are emphasized in part 2 of the Korban, but not because they were a donation for future use; rather, the Keilim are emphasized because on that day the Keilim were sanctified as Kelei Shareit, Keilim used for service in the Mishkan. The initiation of the Mishkan included not only the first use of the Mizbei’ach (part 3 – the animals) but also the spreading of Kedushah to new objects (part 2 – the Keilim). This is a completely separate emphasis from the donation of the wagons in part 1, and it is appropriately part of the ceremonial initiation stage. Thus, the three parts of the Korbanot actually have three different characterizations (though parts 2 and 3 are related): donation for future use, spreading of Kedushah to new objects, and using the Mizbei’ach for its first offerings.
The same idea provides a new perspective on the miracle of the Chanukah oil. The oil’s burning for eight days at the time of the rededication of the Beit HaMikdash is also a spreading of Kedushah, not in objects (as in the Nesi'im's Chanukat HaMishkan) nor in location (as in Shlomoh's Chanukat HaBayit), but in time. The miracle thus represents Hashem's designation of the rededication as yet another Chanukat HaBayit.