When Chanukah time comes around, I am always reminded of the Beis Yosef’s famous question: Why did the Sages institute eight days of Chanukah to commemorate the miracle that the oil lasted for eight days? After all, the miracle was in actuality only for seven days; they had enough oil for one day.
Of course, it would seem rather awkward if Chanukah were seven days. A morah would try to explain to her students, “The oil lasted for eight days, so we celebrate Chanukah for seven.” Be that as it may, a sefer called Ner L’Meiah was composed with 100 different answers to the Beis Yosef’s question. The author must have really been on fire to come up with so many answers. But that sefer doesn’t hold a candle to Nes LaShoshanim, which has 250 answers. However, even that is no match for a recently published sefer with 500 answers.
It seems to me that some answers are beyond the pale. For example, we know that in the Diaspora we celebrate two days yom tov for the shalosh regalim, because of s’feika d’yoma. Back in the day, messengers were not always able to reach various cities outside Israel in time to let them know what day had been declared rosh chodesh. So when Pesach rolled around, residents of those cities weren’t sure which day was actually Pesach. Due to the doubt, they always kept two days of yom tov.
Even though our calendar is fixed, we still keep two days, as a rabbinic mitzvah. One of the answers in Nes LaShoshanim is that really Chanukah should be seven days, but we keep eight because of s’feika d’yoma. That answer is beyond problematic. Still, some answers are rather creative. Try this one. Really, the rabbis should have instituted that Chanukah be seven days. However, then our menorah would have been required to have a minimum of seven branches, and people might transgress the biblical prohibition of fashioning a seven-branched menorah.
One is not allowed to make such a menorah, since it is similar to the one used in the Beis HaMikdash. (If everyone would have a shamash, then the menorah would have eight branches for a seven-day holiday. But there is no strict requirement that the shamash be part of the menorah.) To steer clear of this, the rabbis instituted that Chanukah be celebrated for eight days. In this way, the menorah would have a minimum of eight branches.
Still another answer seems to contradict a Mishnah in Menachos (88a).
The Beis Yosef’s question is based on the assumption that there was enough oil for one night. One can argue that the jug of oil that was found only contained enough oil for a short summer night. However, since Chanukah is during the winter, they required more oil for a long winter night. Consequently, the fact that the Menorah stayed lit the whole long winter night was miraculous even on the first night.
This argument runs contrary to the plain reading of the Mishnah that indicates that half a log was used for each lamp and does not differentiate between the season. Moreover, the Gemara states that when the kohen lights the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash, he is required to fill the cups with enough oil to last from evening until morning. Rashi (Zevachim 11b) comments that the amount of oil required to make the flame last the entire night during the winter is half a log of oil. That same amount was used during the summer as well, with the result that the fire burned well into the day. It seems from Rashi that all jugs of oil had the same measure of oil in them. They did not produce different sizes, one for the winter and one for the summer.
The Shitah Mekubetzes differs somewhat with Rashi, based on a Gemara in Talmud Yerushalmi. He agrees that the same amount of oil was used during the winter and the summer. However, he says that during the summer, thicker wicks were used to produce a larger flame. This ensured that the light did not burn into the daytime. This is the basis of another answer for the Beis Yosef’s question. It is true that they found enough oil even for a winter night. However, they only had thick summer wicks available, so the fire should not have even lasted one long night. Consequently, there was a miracle even on the first night.
It is interesting to note that it seems from the Shitah Mekubetzes that to properly fulfill the verse that the light of the menorah should last from evening until morning, they did not want the fire burning into the day. They specifically used thicker wicks to ensure this. This would seem to contradict the simple explanation of the miracle of Chanukah, which is that they lit the menorah once and it stayed lit continuously for eight days. Further, if the menorah stayed lit for eight days straight, then they only accomplished the mitzvah of lighting the menorah once, on the first night of Chanukah. So, how did the miracle help if they couldn’t fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the menorah on the remaining seven days? Indeed, Rashi (Menachos 89a) seems to indicate that if the fire was still burning into the day, it was put out. The menorah was then cleaned of the excess oil.
On that note, the Ritva in Shabbos states that half a log of oil was placed into all the cups of the menorah. They all burned out in the morning, save for the middle one—the Ner Ma’aravi—which stayed lit all day. This was a miracle that occurred every day in the Beis HaMikdash: the Ner Ma’aravi had only enough oil to last through the night, yet it remained lit until the following evening, when more oil was added.
This would provide another answer to the Beis Yosef’s question. There was enough oil for one night. However, a miracle occurred on the first day of Chanukah as well—the Ner Ma’aravi stayed lit even during the day, as it always had. So the Sages instituted eight days of Chanukah (as opposed to seven) to commemorate the miracle that always occurred in the Beis HaMikdash and that occurred on the first day of Chanukah as well.
The previous Shitah Mekubetzes notwithstanding, my wife always teaches her class that the fire lasted for eight days straight. One thing I learned in marriage class is that the wife is never wrong. Of course, I protested loudly that her version of history is illogical, based on what I wrote above. In her defense, there is a Midrash Tanchuma in Parashas Tetzaveh that states, “Rebbe Chanina, s’gan ha’kohanim, said, ‘I used to serve in the Beis HaMikdash and a miracle happened with the menorah. They would light it on Rosh Hashanah and it would stay lit until the next Rosh Hashanah.”
The Gerer Rebbe asked R’ Chaim Brisker the same question raised earlier. If it stayed lit all year, then the kohanim only fulfilled the mitzvah of lighting the menorah once a year! R’ Chaim answered that the mitzvah is not the act of lighting the menorah; the mitzvah is fulfilled when the menorah is lit. If it stayed lit all year, then the mitzvah was fulfilled every night, because it was lit.
Others argue with R’ Chaim and say that adding oil even to a lit menorah in the Beis HaMikdash is tantamount to lighting it. According to either explanation, this Midrash forces me to admit my wife might be right. The Midrash clearly demonstrates that having a menorah burn continuously is not in violation of any halachah.
The Gemara in Menachos (88b) and Rashi quoted above seem to indicate that one was not allowed to use the oil left over from one day to use for lighting the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash the next day. Therefore, the Sfas Emes questions: During Chanukah, how were they allowed to light the menorah on the second night using leftover oil? He suggests, therefore, that my wife is indeed correct. The Menorah stayed lit for eight days straight during the Chanukah miracle, and, technically, this was not a violation of using leftover oil.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.