Rabbenu Bachya On The Miracle Of Chanukah
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Rabbenu Bachya on the Miracle of Chanukah
Rabbi Dr. Moshe J. Yeres
In the second half of the thirteenth century Rabbenu Bachya ben Asher wrote Sefer Kad Hakemach in which he compiled sixty themed articles in Judaism.
In his chapter on Ner Chanukah, Rabbenu Bachya notes that the actual Menorah of the Temple and the other items in the Bet Hamikdash all serve as symbols and hints for the דברים שכליים (rational matters) in this world, as the Torah writes in Shemot 25:40 וראה ועשה בתבניתם אשר אתה מראה בהר “And see that thou make them after their pattern...” which is taken to mean that Moshe saw the example of their form and discerned knowledge and wisdom from them.
Thus the Menorah and the kindling of its lights in the Bet Hamikdash help us focus on the light of the Almighty’s שכינה . Also by kindling the lights, we are directed to the importance of honouring His Presence. (Therefore writes Rabbenu Bachya, we add lights and illumination on Shabbat in order to show honour to Hashem.) The extension of this physical light is an indication of G-d’s Presence and favour.
As a consequence of this, the symbol of Hashem’s constant presence in the Bet Hamikdash was the Ner Ma’aravi (western light) of the Menorah. Though it contained no more oil than the other candles of the Menorah, it burned for 24 hours until the next evening. The Talmud in Yoma 39a also notes that during the life of certain individuals, the Ner Ma’aravi never went out at all. This was an indication of their supreme awareness of the Almighty. This is the meaning of the Torah in Vayikra 24:3 that the candles of the Menorah were set by Aaron and his sons מחוץ לפרוכת העדות באהל מועד “outside the Veil which is before the testimony”, because the Menorah serves as testimony to the entire world that the Divine שכינה rests among the Jewish people.
At any rate, Rabbenu Bachya notes that it is therefore only natural that the victory of the Hasmoneans would be accompanied by a miracle that would be highlighted by the Menorah’s burning for an extended length of time. Hence the miracle served not only a utilitarian purpose to allow the Menorah to remain lit until additional pure oil was procured for the
So why did the miracle last exactly eight days? Rabbenu Bachya notes that many items in the Bet Hamikdash were based on or related to the number eight including the following:
° The Kohen Gadol wore eight garments – חושן, אפוד, מעיל, כתונת תשבץ, מצנפת, אבנט, מכנסי בד, ציץ
° The Levi’im played eight different types of instruments – נגינות, מחלת, עלמות, משא, שושנים, נחילות, גתית, שמינית (see I Chronicles 15:22, Tehillim 4:1, 53:1, 46:1, 45:1, 8:1, 6:1.)
° There were eight types of items with fragrance used in שמן המשחה וקטרת , four in the shemen hamishcha – מור, קנמן, קנה, קדה ; and four in the ketoret – נטף, שחלת, חלבנה, לבנה
° There were eight בדים (staves) – two for the
° Korbanot could only be offered on the mizbeach after they were at least eight days old.
° According to Rabbenu Bachya there exist eight prerequisites to Prophecy.
° (Similarly brit milah is on the eighth day and there are eight strands of thread in the tzitzit.)
In short the number eight is intrinsically connected to the Bet haMikdash. In order to help us recall this locus of G-d’s presence, the miracle of the oil lasted for eight days.
Though Rabbenu Bachya’s use of the number eight sounds somewhat similar to the Maharal’s concept that eight is symbolic of being למעלה מן הטבע - above the laws of nature, R Bachya tends to focus more on the connection of light and Temple and Shechina, as themes for us to integrate into the holiday of Chanukah.
The most important value then for us in the message of Chanukah, is never to forget to seek the presence of Hashem in our lives. To paraphrase the words of Mattityahu in the