Question:

The blessing that we recite before lighting the Chanukah candles reads, "Blessed are You, G‑d...who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the Chanukah lamp." I don't get it. When did G‑d command us to light the menorah? Isn't Chanukah a man-made holiday?

Response:

Yes the menorah lighting was instituted by the sages after the Jews' miraculous victory over the Syrian Greeks, and the subsequent miracle of one small jar of oil burning for eight days straight. So why do we credit G‑d with the commandment?

Maimonides discusses this in his code of Jewish law1 and explains that G‑d commands us in the Torah to obey the instructions of the sages of future generations. "You shall not divert from that which they teach you," says the verse.2 This means that when we obey the sages, we are doing G‑d's will. Hence, it is G‑d who sanctified us and commanded to obey the sages who instituted the lighting of the Chanukah candles.

Similarly, we find in the ancient Midrash of Rabbi Tanchuma:3

A person should not say, "I won't fulfill the mitzvot of the elders, since they are not from the Torah."

The Holy One, blessed be He, tells such people, "My children, you are not permitted to speak this way! Rather, all that they decree upon you, you should fulfill, as it says in My Torah, "You shall do according to the Torah that they teach you."4 Why? Because I also agree with their words, as is said, "You shall decree a statement and it shall be established for you."

In fact, the Talmud asserts that we are to be stricter with the words of the sages than with the words of Torah, for their words are more precious to G‑d than His own5--just as the words of a wise child may be more precious to a parent and teacher than his or her own.

Happy Chanukah!

Rabbi Baruch Davidson