The story of Chanukah is one of the most famous stories in Jewish history and basically all Jews know how the ending goes; The Jews won and couldn’t find any pure oil because the Greeks had defiled all the oil, except one jar. Miraculously that one jar lasted eight nights which was long enough for the Jews to get more pure oil. In remembrance of this miracle, we light the Menorah for eight nights representing the miracle of the one jar that lasted eight nights.
There are two major questions that arise as a result of this. Firstly, why did the Greeks defile all the oil, wouldn’t it have been a lot quicker and effective to either destroy it or use them for their own benefit? Secondly, it makes sense that we celebrate the miracle for nights 2-8, since that was the miracle of the candle lasting, but the first night seemingly isn’t a miracle at all?
Rabbi Bogomilsky explains in regard to the first question that the objective of the Greeks was not to prevent the Menorah from being lit, rather they wanted the Jews to light the Menorah. They just wanted them to do it with defiled oil. The goal of the Greeks was not to destroy Judaism, but to change it. They wanted to add a Greek twist to the whole Torah. Greeks loved the stories and philosophical discussions in the Torah, but they just didn’t want the Torah to be something considered from G-d. They wanted the Jews to forget where their Torah came from and to become just another segment of the Greek empire. So the Greeks were more than happy for the Jews to keep their traditions, just as long as it was all for the sake of it being physical with nothing spiritual involved. That’s why the Greeks left all the oil impure, so that the Jews would use it, but not care about the spiritual aspect. The Greeks were not trying to destroy us physically, but spiritually.
Rabbi Sacks answers the second question beautifully that the miracle of the candle wasn’t just that the oil lasted for eight days, but the fact that there even was any oil left! The Greeks had ransacked and desecrated the beit hamikdash destroying whatever they came across, including making all the oil impure. There was no reason to suppose that any oil would be left. Yet, the Maccabees looked anyways and they had complete faith that Hashem would help them out. That faith was so powerful that Hashem helped them find that jar. We clearly see that when one puts in effort, Hashem provides the rest. The miracle of the first night was that even though the Greeks had caused so much damage, the Jews still had faith and wanted to rebuild their connection with Hashem.
Even though that first day wasn’t a miracle, that’s what started the miracle. That first night was a totally normal night, but it was still the beginning of the rebuilding of Israel. When you want to lose weight, even though day one you don’t see results, that’s what starts the transformation. All it takes is one day when a person realizes that he wants to make a change, that’s when the change begins. Then after that, all it takes is consistency. The Jews night one of Chanukah said that they were going to start over. Because they took that first step, Hashem helped them out the rest of the way and let the candles last.
If a person has a goal and wants to make a change in his or her life, look at that first seemingly normal night of Chanukah and recognize that even though that first night appeared regular, it was the source for the miracle to start.
Zachary Greenbergis a sophomore in SY SYMS, majoring in Accounting and Finance. He studied in Israel at Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh and is on the YU Cross Country team. He is in Rav Koeningsberg’s shiur in the morning and Sophomore Representative for YSU.