It is customary in many communities to sing the following hymn after the kindling of the Chanukah lights. Chabad does not follow this custom.

The hymn consists of six stanzas. The author’s name, Mordechai (מרדכי), appears in the acrostic signature in the initial letters of the first five stanzas. The date of its composition seems to have been in the mid-thirteenth century. Whether the last stanza formed part of the original composition or was added later is the subject of some disagreement.

"ופרצו חומות מגדלי"
“They breached the walls of my towers.”

QUESTION: Which walls did they breach?

ANSWER: The Beit Hamikdash stood on a mountain which was 1500 cubits square. Around the mountain was a wall. Inside the wall was the soreig — a wood fence of lattice work ten handbreadths tall — which stood ten cubits away from the wall of the AzarahTemple Court. The soreig served as a sign that non-Jews and Jews defiled by a corpse could not enter any further (see Keilim 1:8). The Syrian-Greeks made thirteen breaches in the soreig wall. When the Hasmoneans regained control over the Beit Hamikdash, they repaired the damage. The Sages also instituted that one prostrate himself thirteen times, once at each of the sites of these breaches as an expression of gratitude to Hashem for delivering the Jews and destroying the Syrian-Greek Empire.

(מדות פ"ב מ"ג)

"ופרצו חומות מגדלי"
“They breached the walls of my towers.”

QUESTION: Why did they breach the soireg wall specifically?

ANSWER: The Syrian-Greeks did not seek the physical annihilation, G‑d forbid, of the Jewish people. Rather, they sought a spiritual obliteration, to detach the Jews from tenacious attachment to Hashem and to remove any demarcation that existed between Jew and non-Jew. Hence, once a Jew Hellenized and accepted their philosophy, he was spared persecution. Thus, they objected to this wall that marked the farthest point a non-Jew may go on the Temple Mount and they breached it.

(תוס' יום טוב, שם)

"ופרצו חומות מגדלי"
“They breached the walls of my towers.”

QUESTION: Why did they make exactly thirteen breaches in the soireg wall, not more or less?

ANSWER: In the Al Hanissim prayer we say that the goal of the Syrian-Greeks was “lehashkicham Toratecha” — “to make the Jewish people to forget Your Torah.” The emphasis “Toratecha” — “Your Torah” — and not just “HaTorah” — “the Torah” — is because they were not against the Jews studying Torah, but wanted that Torah should be approached as an intellectual study and not as the holy wisdom of Hashem

In our daily morning prayers we quote the teaching of Rabbi Yishmael that Torah is expounded by means of thirteen rules. If Torah would be human intellect, then this would not be applicable. Only because it is Divinely given can Torah be interpreted and studied in all these ways although all the conclusions derived were originally conveyed by the Giver — Hashem, blessed be He. With the thirteen breaches the Syrian-Greeks were alluding to their view that the Torah was not G‑d given and could not be studied with the thirteen different approaches.

(עי' בפתחא זעירא לספר נטעי גבריאל על חנוכה)

Alternatively, the number thirteen is also the numerical value of the word echad (אחד), which signifies oneness and unity. In the Al Hanissim prayer we proclaim that Hashem gave over “rabbim beyad me’attim” — “many into the hand of the few.” The success of the Jewish people was due to the unity that prevailed. The Syrian-Greek’s message was that they would endeavor to destroy the unity of the Jewish people and thus defeat them. Fortunately, the righteous and pure remained steadfastly united, and the enemy’s devious plans failed.

* * *

Due to the audacity shown by the Syrian-Greeks when they damaged Hashem’s holy property by making thirteen breaches, Hashem responded with His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and brought about the salvation of His beloved people — Klal Yisrael.

"ופרצו חומות מגדלי וטמאו כל השמנים"
“They breached the walls of my towers and they defiled all the oils.”

QUESTION: What is the connection between these two iniquities of the Syrian-Greeks?

ANSWER: The finding of the single sealed flask of oil was a great miracle since the Syrian-Greeks defiled all the oil in the Beit Hamikdash. However, a difficulty raised about this is that the Gemara (Pesachim 18a) says that liquids of the Beit Hamikdash are not susceptible to tumah — defilement?

An answer to this question is that the halachah applies only as long as the sanctity of the Beit Hamikdash is in effect; then the wine and oil therein cannot become tamei. If, however, it has lost its sanctity, then it no longer protects the liquids against tumah. In such an instance, oil within the confines of such a Beit Hamikdash is equivalent to oil which was taken outside of the Beit Hamikdash and is no longer protected and indeed can become tamei (see ibid. 17b).

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 52b) says that the Syrian-Greeks defiled the Altar by sacrificing an offering to an idol. Once this occurred, the Rabbis applied the pasuk “and lawless people came into [the Sanctuary] and profaned it” (Ezekiel 7:22). That is, through their behavior in the Beit Hamikdash, they caused it to be stripped of its sanctity.

Hence, the hymn is stating; since “upartzu chomot migdalai” — “they breached the walls of my towers” — i.e. the lawless people entered into it, and profaned it, causing it to lose its sanctity, “tim’u kol hashemanin” — they were able to defile all the oils therein.

(שו"ת בית יצחק או"ח סי' כ"ז)

"ומנותר קנקנים נעשה נס לשושנים"
“From the remnant of the flasks a miracle was wrought for the roses.”

QUESTION: According to the Gemara (Shabbat 21b) the miracle of Chanukah was with the pach hashemen — flask of oil. So instead of “kankanim” it should have said “pachim”?

ANSWER: In Pirkei Avot (4:20) Rabbi Meir says “Al tistakeil bakankan elah bamah sheyeish bo” — “Do not look at the vessel rather by what it contains.” Which kankan was Rabbi Meir advising us not to look at, and what does it contain?

In the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy listed in the Torah (Shemot 34:6, 7), it is written, “Preserver of kindness for two thousand generations, Forgiver of iniquity, willful transgression and sin, and venakeih lo yenakeh — He absolves but does not cleanse completely” (see Rashi). How does “venakeih lo yenakeh” fit in to the Attributes of Mercy?

The word “kankan” (קנקן) — “vessel” — is composed of the middle letters of the words “venakeih yenakeh”נקה ינקה). Possibly, Rabbi Meir is alluding that when we look at the words “venakeih lo yenakeh” (ונקה לא ינקה) they do not appear to fit among the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. However, when we remove the "נק" from ,"ונקה" and the "נק" from ,"ינקה" then each word spells half of Hashem’s name .(י, ה-ו, ה) Hence, by not looking at the letters ",קנקן" the words "ונקה לא ינקה" fit very well among the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.

Thus, Rabbi Meir is offering words of consolation, that no Jew should despair when reading of His Attributes of Mercy since also in “venakeih lo yenakeh” there is hidden mercy.

The Hymnist’s message is that all the miracles Hashem performed for the Jewish people on Chanukah were thanks to His mercy. He hints it to us in the following way: U’minotar kankanim — from the remnant letters after you remove the kankanim — (i.e. the four letters which spell the word “kan” two times) from venakeih yenahek, you are left with His holy four letter Name, which connotes mercy. Hence from this remnant which spells out His attribute of mercy, a miracle was wrought for the roses, i.e. the Jewish people.

(בני יששכר)

"ומנותר קנקנים נעשה נס לשושנים"
“From the remnant of the flasks a miracle was wrought for the roses.”

QUESTION: What remnant is the hymnist referring to?

ANSWER: The Beit Yosef (Tur, Orach Chayim 670) questions that Chanukah should be celebrated for only seven days because for the first day oil was available without any miracles? One of the answers is that after filling the Menorah on the first night, some oil remained in the flask which later miraculously increased so that they had oil for the next night. Thus, there was a miracle also on the first day and this repeated itself every day.

The hymnist is alluding to this explanation and telling us that the miracle of Chanukah was that u’minotar kankanin — from the remnant oil which remained in the flask a miracle was wrought for the roses.

(נר מצוה)

"נעשה נס לשושנים"
“A miracle was wrought for the roses.”

QUESTION: In what way are the Jewish people analogous to a rose?

ANSWER: According to the Midrash, “When a rose is among thorns, a north wind goes forth and bends her toward the south and a thorn pricks her, then a south wind goes forth and bends her toward the north and a thorn pricks her; yet, for all that, her core is directed upwards. The same is true with the Jewish people. Although they are oppressed and tortured from all sides by the nations, their hearts are directed towards their Father in Heaven.”

(מדרש רבה ויקרא כג:ה)

Once, while the Ramban (Nachmanides) and a priest were taking a stroll together in a garden, the priest said, “You Jews must be a terrible people; otherwise, why do all the nations of the world torture and despise you?” The Ramban took him to a section in the garden where there were beautiful rose bushes in the midst of thorns, and said to him, “Does the fact that these roses are pricked by the thorns and bitten by insects depict the superiority of the thorns and the insects, and the inadequacy of the rose? Of course not; it is merely that the refined and tender rose is incapable of standing up to the strong and vicious thorns. Likewise, their persecuting us is no proof of their superiority and our inadequacy. They are coarse and rough, and we are physically weak and delicate.”

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר)

"וקרב קץ הישועה"
“And hasten the End for salvation.”

QUESTION: Why is the ultimate redemption called keitz”?

ANSWER: At the Brit Bein Habetarim — “Covenant Between the Parts” — Hashem said to Avraham, “Your offspring shall be aliens in a land not their own, and they will oppress them four hundred years” (Bereishit 15:13). The fulfillment of this vision was the Egyptian exile and servitude. Commentaries ask, however: The Jewish people were in Egypt only for a total of 210 years — why did Hashem say 400 years”?

Among the numerous explanations to this question is the following: Whatever Hashem says is definitely true. However, Hashem did not say 400 years in Egypt, rather “in a land not their own.” This could have been in Egypt, however, the Jews sunk there to such a spiritual low ebb that had they been there any longer, they would not be worthy to be redeemed. Hence, Hashem was forced to take them out of Egypt prematurely. The remaining 190 years of the prophecy is being fulfilled with our subjugations under the Four Monarchies, Babylon, Media-Persia, Syrian-Greeks and Rome. The word “keitz” — “end” — (קץ) has the numerical value of 190, and this end will be heralded with the coming of Mashiach.

(עי' הגש"פ ע"פ ילקוט שמעוני ע' 74 בשם בנין אריאל)

"וקרב קץ הגאולה"
“Hasten the End for salvation.”

QUESTION: What is the meaning of “hasten the end”?

ANSWER: Regarding the redemption the Prophet says, “Be’itah achishenah” — “In its time I will hasten it” (Isaiah 60:22). The phrase “in its time,” i.e. at its predetermined time, apparently contradicts the phrase “I will hasten it” which implies that the redemption will come earlier. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 98a) explains that there is “be’itah” — “a preordained time” — for the redemption but Hashem may decide “achishenah” — “to hasten” — the redemption before the preordained time. If the Jews are deserving, then, “Achishenah” — “I will hasten it.” If they are not deserving, then, “Be’itah” — “[It will occur] in its time.”

Thus, our prayer is that Hashem redeem us hastily and send Mashiach instantaneously.

* * *

Incidentally, regarding the coming of Mashiach it is commonly accepted that Eliyahu will herald his coming. Nevertheless, the Rambam (Melachim 12:2) says that “Among the chachamim — wise men — some say that Eliyahu will appear prior to the coming of Mashiach. However, man will not know this clearly until it actually happens...and therefore there are disputes about this.”

Commentaries explain that the Rambam is not disputing what is commonly accepted about Eliyahu and Mashiach, but rather that there are two ways in which the revelation of Mashiach may take place and this determines whether Eliyahu will precede or follow the coming of Mashiach.

Should we have to wait for the redemption to happen in the preordained time, then it will be heralded by Eliyahu. However, if it is hastened, then all established decorum will be negated and Mashiach will arrive unexpectedly and unannounced.

(שו"ת בית יחזקאל מר' צבי יחזקאל ז"ל מיכלזון, כרתי ופלתי יו"ד סוף סי' ק"י)