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Why the Discrepancy in the Chanukah Prayer?

Why the Discrepancy in the Chanukah Prayer?

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Dear Rabbi,

I am a goldsmith who also makes contemporary Judaica, and I often use Hebrew text on my Judaica pieces. Currently, I’m working on a new menorah candelabrum on which I will add the prayer of Haneirot Halalu, which we say after lighting the menorah on Chanukah.

I noticed that there seems to be a discrepancy in the Chabad version of this prayer. We start off by saying, “We kindle these lights to commemorate the salvations [saving acts], miracles and wonders which You have performed for our forefathers,” but then when it come to the ending, we reverse the order and say, “in order to offer thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, for Your wonders and for Your salvations.”

Is there a reason for this discrepancy?

Answer:

When analyzing the prayer, it becomes apparent that we are not just commemorating one miracle; we are commemorating three general categories of miracles performed by G‑d in those days: salvations, miracles and wonders.

But first, a short refresher on the Chanukah miracle story is in order. The Chanukah miracle began in a small town in Israel called Modiin. The Greeks had enacted a series of harsh decrees against the Jews. Jewish worship was forbidden, and the Jewish scrolls were confiscated and burned. Sabbath rest, circumcision and the dietary laws were prohibited under penalty of death.

In order to further perpetuate the eradication of the Jewish religion, the Greeks would visit Jewish towns and villages to forcefully get them to go against G‑d and his Torah. Thus the Greeks came to Modiin, the town in which the old and revered priest Mattityahu and his sons lived. The Greeks set up an altar and wished to sacrifice a swine upon it. Mattityahu and his sons resisted and defeated the Greek forces in a battle.

This initial revolt grew into a full-fledged war against the Greeks. Antiochus, the Greek-Syrian emperor, sent in huge numbers of troops to quash the rebellion. The Maccabees, the Jewish fighters, were greatly outnumbered. Nevertheless, they were victorious.

After the victory, the Maccabees entered the Holy Temple which the Greeks had defiled. When it came time to kindle the menorah candelabrum, they could not find a single untouched flask of oil that had not been defiled by the Greeks. After searching, they were able to find “one flask of oil with the high priest stamp left intact.”1 Later, there was yet another miracle: this one flask of oil, which should have lasted only one day, burned for eight days.

We start off the Chanukah prayer by recounting in chronological order the miracles that were performed for us: “We kindle these lights to commemorate the salvations [saving acts], miracles and wonders which You have performed for our forefathers.”

Let’s take a closer look at these three types of miracles:

Salvations: When there is a conflict in which either side may win, one needs G‑d’s “salvation” to be certain of victory. However, it is precisely because one side could win equally as well as the other that salvation looks like a natural event. This was the case with the initial victory in the town of Modiin where there wasn’t an overly large Greek army.

Miracles: A “miracle” is something that transcends nature and runs counter to what should have happened under normal circumstances. When a tiny, weak and ill-equipped band of civilians defeats an overwhelmingly superior army, that is a miracle.

Wonders: “Wonders” are events that are removed from the normal course of events and therefore evoke wonder in those who witness them. However, many would still consider them natural. In the Chanukah story, the “wonder” was finding the one flask of uncontaminated oil.2 For although it is completely normal for them to have overlooked one flask, it is still “wondrous” that one flask was found buried (which in itself is wondrous, since they weren’t normally buried).

However, when it comes to the end of the prayer, we mention the miracles in the order in which they cause us to “offer thanks and praise to Your great Name.” The order is, “Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.”

We first thank and praise G‑d for His open miracles, those events that everyone recognizes come from G‑d. Then, after some contemplation, we realize that even events that we merely categorize as wonders, because they can be attributed to natural causes, come from G‑d. Finally, we come to the realization that we must thank G‑d even for those things which are neither open miracles nor even wonders, those things which occur “naturally”—salvations. For nature itself is really G‑dliness.3

See the Story of Chanukah from our Chanukah (Hanukkah) megasite.

Footnotes
1.

Talmud, Yoma 29a.

2.

See Rabbi Menachem Meir (13th century sage), known as the Meiri, on the Talmud, Shabbat 21b, who says that on the first night of Chanukah we bless G‑d for the miracle of finding the one flask of pure, undefiled oil. See also Rabbi Dovber of Lubavitch in Shaarei Orah, p. 42a, who says that the principal miracle of Chanukah was finding the oil.

3.

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in Likutei Sichot, vol. 15, p. 366-369.

Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Yehuda Shurpin (Author) December 25, 2011

Re: Chanukah prayer For why we make the blessing "Blessed are You, G‑d...who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to...."
See Is Chanukah G-d-given Reply

Dr. Simcha Baker Modi''in, Israel December 25, 2011

The Chanukah Story One miracle after another. G-d's help in support of His people who stood up to those who defied Him and His ways (still ongoing); the military victory (may have gone to the Maccabees head as being their own doing), however, at least for now, they were interested in purifying the Temple and getting the Menorah lit again. The flask of unadulterated oil was found buried under debris. In my humble opinion, the biggest miracle was not the oil that burned miraculously, in whatever sequence brought down by the Sages, BUT that even one vial was found. Now, let us imagine the invaders getting rid of all vestiges of holiness in the Temple. I hardly think that any single vial would have escaped their attention. The Maccabees searched and G-d delivered this miraculous vial - of course the oil burned miraculously. Both the oil and the vial were G-d's miraculous gift to REMIND all that G-d was in control of all of these miraculous events. Reply

Hudel Oak Park, MI December 22, 2011

Chanukah prayer Why do we say B'Mitzvah when we light? We say it with other blessings too which are not Torah commandments. Reply

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