Around Chanukah time, the number eight becomes very significant. There are eight nights of the Chag, eight candles to light, and eight days for us to obtain new pure oil. For many of us, these eights all go together, and we don’t question their relationship. Simply, when the Chashmonaim retook the Beit HaMikdash, they needed eight days to procure new Tahor oil for the Menorah; the one day’s worth that they had lasted for those eight days, and therefore we celebrate Chanukah for eight days. But the Beit Yosef questions the number eight. Why would there be eight nights of Chanukah as result of the miracle of the oil, if the miracle was only seven days? It took eight days to get new oil, and the Chashmonaim had one day’s worth of oil left. Since the first day was not miraculous, the miracle only lasted seven days, and there should only be seven days of Chanukah!
There are several answers given to this question. One answer is that the Chashmonaim tried to preserve the oil by dividing it into eight portions, and burned one portion on each day. However, miraculously, the small portion of oil lasted longer than it should have on each day. This miracle lasted eight days, so we have eight days of Chanukah. Another answer given is that there were two miracles, one of oil, and one of military victory. Therefore, seven days are celebrated for the oil, and one extra day for the military miracle.
The second answer reminds us of an important part of the Chanukah story that is often overlooked: the miraculous aspect of the victory over the Greeks. Since the military victory does not show Hashem’s hand in an outright, supernatural way, it is often attributed to the strategic genius and combat prowess of the Maccabim. A similar thought was held in the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967, as many around the world congratulated Israel on its brilliant tactics. While Israel certainly demonstrated some brilliant strategy, this does not preclude the occurrence of a miracle. The key to Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, as well as the Maccabim’s triumph in the struggle with the Greeks, was Hashem’s help, without which nothing, however simple, can be accomplished (Editor’s note: One who carefully reads Michael Oren’s “Six Days of War” can easily discern the hand of God in this war. The chain of improbable events such as the myriad failures of judgment of the leaders of all of the three Arab armies involved, clearly point to Hashem as orchestrating this extraordinary victory).
In Kabbalah, the number seven represents nature, since the world was created in seven days. The number eight, on the other hand, represents LeMa’alah Min HaTeva, transcending nature, as represented by the eight days before a boy’s Brit Milah, when man shows that he transcends basic creation. In this lies the symbolism of the eight days of Chanukah. Chanukah is a time for recognizing Hashem in everything that happens, beyond simple “rational” explanation, and understanding that nothing happens without Him. Both the oil miracle, which defies natural explanation, and the war, which is often viewed as less than miraculous, show Hashem’s hand in our lives. This is also why Chanukah always comes out in the middle our reading of the Yosef narrative. An unsophisticated eye could dismiss the entire story as a series of meaningless coincidences, but the story of Chanukah teaches us that even the more mundane things that happen to Yosef, and of course the more drastic ones, are a result of Hashem’s actions.
This message is very important to us today. We no longer live in a world of open miracles and clear signs of Hashem’s power. Therefore, it is crucial that we recognize the everyday miracles that we see. The continued existence of the State of Israel, for example, can be seen as sixty three years of continuous strokes of luck, or as a sign of the tenacity of the Jewish people, or both. But someone who does not see Yad Hashem in it as well is not looking properly. We must all strive to see Hashem’s actions in our everyday lives, and this will bring us closer to the time when Hashem will once again perform open miracles, BiMeheirah BeYameinu.