"בימי מתתיהו בן יוחנן כהן גדול"
“In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan the High Priest.”

QUESTION: The Al Hanissim recited on Purim just says “In the days of Mordechai” without mentioning his father; why on Chanukah do we mention that Matityahu was the son of Yochanan the Kohen Gadol?

ANSWER: A group of young kohanim of the Chashmoneam house went out before Yom Kippur to fight the Greeks and waged war on Yom Kippur. When Yochanan the Kohen Gadol came to the Beit Hamikdash to perform the special service of the day, he heard a Heavenly voice emanating from the Holy of Holies, proclaiming: “The young men who went to wage war in Antioch have been victorious” (see Sotah 33a).

Since Yochanan merited to be informed of a victory of the Hasmoneans over the Greeks, his name is mentioned in the prayer of praise to Hashem for the victories.

(בני יששכר מאמר ד' סי' כ"ח)

"בימי מתתיהו בן יוחנן"
“In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan”

QUESTION: What impact did Yochanan have on our way of celebrating the miracle of Chanukah?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Sotah 48a) says that “until the days of Yochanan the Kohen Gadol, the hammer [of the blacksmith] would bang in Jerusalem [on Chol Hamo’eid — the intermediate days of Pesach and Sukkot] and he forbade it.”

While many forms of work are forbidden on Chol Hamo’eid, tasks necessary to prevent irretrievable loss are permitted. The blacksmiths were thus permitted to perform their work on Chol Hamo’eid in order to prevent an irretrievable loss (see Mo’eid Kattan 11a). Nevertheless, Yochanan the Kohen Gadol decreed that they should not perform this work because the loud noise of the hammers banging on the anvil was heard a far distance away. He was concerned that some would not know that the noise was from the blacksmiths who were performing their work, which is permitted, and that they would mistakenly assume that all work is permitted. Therefore, he forbade the banging of the hammer on Chol Hamo’eid.

With the prohibition of causing the loud noises he caused the people to refrain from work and assured the sanctity of Chol Hamo’eid. Therefore, as a reward, he merited that through his son a Yom Tov was added for the Jewish people in which pirsumei nisa — publicizing of the miracle — is a an essential prerequisite for proper observance.

* * *

Perhaps this may also be a reason for the opinion that everyone (not only women) should refrain from doing work while the candles which publicize the miracle are lit.

(בני יששכר מאמר ד' סי' כ"א, בענין איסור מלאכה כשהנרות דולקות עי' ב"ח סי' עת"ר בשם מהרי"ל "שקבלה בידינו שאין לאדם לעשות מלאכה בשעה שהנרות דולקים בחנוכה" ועי' בברכי יוסף סי' עת"ר סעי' ד' )

"להשכיחם תורתיך"
“To make them forget Your Torah.”

QUESTION: The Syrian-Greeks endeavored to make the Jews cease studying Torah and instead study Greek Mythology and other secular subjects. Hence, instead of “Lehashkicham Toratecha” — “To make them forget Your Torah” — it should have said “Levatlam milumud Toratecha” — “To void them from the study of Your Torah”?

ANSWER: According to the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 2:4), when the Torah (Bereishit 1:2) says “ ‘and there was darkness [upon the face of the deep]’ — darkness symbolizes Greece, which darkened the eyes of Israel with its decrees.”

Torah is the light by which the Jewish people exist. Without Torah we are in the darkness. The word “lehaskicham” includes the letters of the word “choshech” (חשך) — “darkness.” With this term the authors of the prayer wanted to emphasize the wickedness of the Syrian-Greeks. The reason they wanted lehashkicham — to make the Jews forget Hashem’s Torah — was that through this we would lose our guiding light and live in spiritual darkness.

(בני יששכר)

"נקמת נקמתם"
“You avenged the wrong done to them.”

QUESTION: “Nekamah” literally means “revenge,” in which one requites a wrong done to him by another, by performing a similar act. Rashi (Vayikra 19:18) gives the following example: “One man said to another “Lend me your sickle and the second said to him, ‘No.’ The next day the second said to the first, ‘Lend me your hatchet.’ The first one replied, ‘I am not lending it to you just as you did not lend to me.’ This is taking revenge.” What revenge did Hashem take for the Jews?

ANSWER: According to the Midrash (see Aruch Hashulchan 670:5, Seder Hadorot, p. 145) the Syrian-Greeks prevented the Jews from celebrating the eight days of Sukkot and bringing the many required festival offerings in the Beit Hamikdash. As a nekamah — revenge — Hashem gave the Jews a new eight day festival — Chanukah.

Alternatively, the Syrian-Greeks demanded that the Jews write on the horn of the ox that they denied their belief and share in the G‑d of Israel (Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 2:4). Their intent was that they should publicize their kefirah — heresy. As a nekamah — revenge, Hashem gave us a mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah Menorah and it must be done with pisumei nisa — publicizing the miracle. Thus, everyone will know what Hashem did for us thanks to our allegiance and dedication to Him.

(הרב דוב צבי שי' קרלנשטיין, קונטרס בעניני חנוכה)

"מסרת גבורים ביד חלשים ורבים ביד מעטים וטמאים ביד טהורים ורשעים ביד צדיקים וזדים ביד עוסקי תורתך"
“You delivered the mighty into the hand of the weak, the many into the hand of the few, the impure into the hand of the pure, the wicked into the hand of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hand of those who occupy themselves with your Torah.”

QUESTION: For the weak and few to be able to conquer the strong and many is a miracle, but what miracle is it that impure were conquered by the pure or that the righteous conquered the wicked?

ANSWER: According to the historians, in addition to those who succumbed to the Greek-Syrians’ decrees against Torah and mitzvot due to the extreme pressure, there were also many Jews who were known as “Mityavnim” — “Hellenized Jews.” These people agreed with the Greek philosophy and were antagonistic toward the minority of Jews who remained steadfast and faithful to Hashem.

The weak and few dedicated Jews not only fought the Yevanim — the Greeks — but also the Mityavnim — the Jews who accepted Hellenistic philosophy. They are the “temei’im” — “impure” — “resha’im” — “wicked” — and “zeidim” — “wanton sinners” — referred to in this prayer.

Thus, the miracle that occurred in regard to them was twofold:

1) They were conquered though they were a majority and an internal enemy is worse that an external one.

2) Hashem gave them “over” (מסרת) into the hands of their Torah committed brothers and they repented and accepted the ways of the pure, the righteous, and those engaged in Torah study.

A compelling reason for this explanation is that otherwise the descriptions of impure, wicked, and wanton sinners would be difficult to comprehend as referring to the Syrian-Greeks. The concept of tumah and taharah does not apply to non-Jews. In matters of tumah — impurity — just as a live animal does not become tamei, so don’t non-Jews (see Rambam, Tumat Meit, 1:13).

The term tzaddik and rasha“righteous” and “wicked” — are reserved specifically for Jews contingent on their observance of Torah and mitzvot or the lack of it and their reward or punishment for Torah compliance or violation (see Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, p. 159).

The term “oiseik baTorah” — engaged in Torah study — does not apply to non-Jews. In fact, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 59a) says that a gentile who engages in Torah study is liable death punishment. If so, the term “zeidim” — “wanton sinners” — which is a description of those opposing the Torah studiers, cannot be a categorization of the non-Jews.

The mityavnim, who were Jews, were at that time unfortunately “temei’im” — “impure” — “resha’im” — “wicked” — and “zeidim” — “wanton sinners,” who miraculously were “mosarta” — “given over” — by Hashem into the control of the pure and righteous Jews who engaged in Torah study.

(לקוטי שיחות ח"ל ע' 209)

"ואחר כך באו בניך לדביר ביתך ופינו את היכלך וטהרו את מקדשך"
“After that Your children entered the shrine of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary.”

QUESTION: Why did the Rabbis who authored this prayer include the two words “v’achar kach,” — “and after that” — which seem to be superfluous?

ANSWER: For a moment let us picture the situation: We find a mighty army ready to do battle with the people of Israel, who are absolutely unprepared militarily. They possess neither the numbers nor the arms to prevail against the enemy. We can imagine what took place when a man left his home to go to the battlefront, knowing his side was outnumbered and unprepared to win the war. His family, of course, is broken-hearted. His wife, children, and in many cases brothers and sisters bid farewell to the young man with trepidation, not knowing whether or not they would see him alive again.

Finally the battle takes place and a miracle occurs. The tide is turned. Instead of the many being victorious over the few, the mighty over the weak, it is the other way around. Matityahu’s sons and the Hasmonean armies are victorious and win the war. Now, it stands to reason that the first reaction from the soldiers should be to immediately rush back home and tell their families that they are alive, safe and sound.

However, it wasn’t so. After winning the war, these men first went to the Holy Temple to rid it of impurities, re-establish its sanctity and try to bring back the G‑dly light of the Menorah. Therefore, our Rabbis tell us “v’achar kach” — “and after that” — i.e. after it was over — they did not run home to their families and bring them the good tidings. No, they first went to the Holy Temple, for they knew that winning a physical battle wasn’t everything. They felt that until the house of Hashem was put in order, their victory was not complete. Our Rabbis wanted to impress upon us that these men who went out to battle realized that the greatest accomplishment would be to put the House of Hashem back in order. And this was the first obligation they proceeded to fulfill immediately after claiming victory.

(הרב יעקב יהודה ז"ל העכט)

Alternatively, by these actions they demonstrated that their interest in the battle was not military victory, nor political power, but undisturbed service of Hashem and study of His Torah. Therefore the first thing they did after their victory was coming to the Beit Hamikdash.

(חפץ חיים)

"והדליקו נרות בחצרות קדשך"
“And they kindled lights in Yourholy courtyards.”

QUESTION: The kindling of the Menorah took place in the Beit Hamikdash itself. Why did the Hasmoneans kindle it in the courtyard?

ANSWER: When the Hasmoneans entered the Beit Hamikdash, they found it defiled and in ruins. Thus, they were unable to kindle the Menorah while it stood in its regular place. In the interim, while they were cleaning the mess and renovating, the Menorah was kindled in the courtyard. This is permissible according to halachah (see Rambam, Hilchot Biat Hamikdash 9:7).

Through kindling the Menorah in the courtyard, everyone was able to witness the eight-day miracle, which would not have been the case had it been lit inside. Then, only the Kohanim would have seen it.

With this explanation, we can answer the popular question: Why Chanukah is celebrated for eight-days rather than seven, though sufficient oil was found for the first night.

The oil found would have lasted through the night only if the Menorah would have been kindled inside. However, Chanukah takes place during the winter, and due to weather conditions, the oil would normally not have been sufficient to last through the night when the Menorah was kindled outside in the courtyard.

(חתם סופר)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe questions: According to this, grammatically it should be in singular: “bechatzer kadeshecha” — “in Your holy courtyard” — in lieu of the plural, “bechatzrot kadeshecha” — “in Your holy courtyards.” Thus, he asserts that the Menorah was indeed kindled inside the Beit Hamikdash. However, as an additional expression of joy and happiness, all the courtyards in the outskirts of the Beit Hamikdash were also illuminated with an abundance of light.

(לקוטי שיחות חכ"ה ע' 238, וכ' האבודרהם "בחצרות קדשיך ע"ש [ישעי' ס"ב ט'] בחצרות קדשי" ושם מדובר ע"ד העיר ירושלים)