During the eight days of Chanukah, the kindling of the festive Chanukah lights is followed by the prayer of HaNeiros Halalu The prayer begins with the words: “We kindle these lights [to commemorate] the salvations, miracles and wonders that You performed for our forefathers in those days. The prayer concludes: “...so that we may offer thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, for Your wonders, and for Your salvations.”1

We observe that the order of the wording “salvations, miracles and wonders” used at the beginning of the prayer, changes at the conclusion of the prayer to “miracles, wonders and salvations.” What is the significance of this change?

The prayer HaNeiros Halalu is comprised of two parts. The first part speaks of the three forms of “miracles, wonders and salvations” that were “performed for our forefathersin thosedays.” The conclusion of the prayer emphasizes our emotional response of “offering thanks and praise to Your great Name,” for having made those miraculous and wondrous events come to pass.

Chronologically, the “miracles” of the events of Chanukah were preceded by “salvations” and were followed by “wonders.” Concerning our emotional response, “miracles” elicit the most obvious response of “thanks and praise,” followed by “wonders” and finally “salvations.”

The reason why this is so will be understood by first considering the difference between the three above-mentioned terms.

In order for a person to be assured of victory when fighting his equal, he must be blessed with G‑d’s help and salvation, for in the natural course of events [and both sides being equal] sometimes one person will win and sometimes the other will emerge victorious. Yet, G‑d’s assistance and salvation notwithstanding, this victory may have seemed to occur in an entirely natural manner.

A “miracle,” however, is surely involved when a totally outnumbered and much weaker force emerges victorious over its enemy; in the natural course of events a puny force cannot vanquish its much more formidable foe. For that, a miracle must occur.

Wonders”refers to those occurrences which, while not being clear-cut miracles, nevertheless, arouse astonishment and wonder in the eyes of the beholder; while these events may not be open miracles, there nevertheless is no doubt that they are beyond the pale of the ordinary.

The beginning of the Chanukah saga, the Hasmonean victory over the Greek soldiers in Modi’in, involved one small force opposing another — Mattisyahu and his sons overwhelmed the small local Greek garrison.2 While G‑d’s help and salvation was surely involved, in no way was this an obvious miracle.

Later on, when the greatly outnumbered and much weaker Jewish army vanquished the mighty army of Antiochus,3 it was evident to all that a miracle had occurred and that “G‑d stood by them in their time of distress and waged their battle.”4

When the Hasmoneans finally routed the Greeks, they entered the Holy Temple and found only one cruse of untainted olive oil with which to kindle the menorah.5 This phenomenon, that one cruse should remain pure while all the others were defiled, was “wondrous” indeed.

Although an argument could be made that a miracle was involved, it was also possible that the Greeks just happened to overlook that cruse of oil. Therefore, this event was not a “miracle” but a “wonder.” Hence the order — “salvations, miracles and wonders.”

When it comes to our emotional reactions to these events — the conclusion of the HaNeiros Halalu prayer — the order of the wording changes in line with our emotional response: We are initially moved by clearly evident miracles, and for these we “thank and praise Him.” Only after further contemplation are we able to realize that G‑d’s hand is also involved in “wonders” and even in “salvations.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XV, pp. 366-369.