What is Chanukah?

What is Chanukah? The sages learned that on the 25th day of Kislev the days of Chanukah are eight …(Talmud Shabbat)
Men of Understanding…Days of Eight… (Lyrics to Maoz Tzur)

The Sfas Emes points out that saying “the days of Chanukah are eight “instead of “eight days” means much more than some subtle poetic nuance. One tells us of the number, the mere quantity of the days while the other tells us about the quality of  these days of Chanukah. Somehow they are “days of eight”. What does that mean and what does that mean to us?

The Greek civilization presented a competitive culture, which sought to substitute and supplant Jewish life. They offered intellectual rigor, spirited sports, the catharsis of theatre and art. The Jewish Nation was allured to this system which was at first friendly and only later proved to be a deadly affair. While the Greeks were genuinely interested in categorizing and artistically mapping the mathematical beauty and truth of the universe, their vision of reality was by definition limited to the lens of the human eye.

That the world was a seven-day production and that we operate within that framework creates a natural boundary for even the most perfect description of reality. Everything experienced is enveloped within the arena of our existence. The logical limits of Greek thought and life was by definition within the reach of “seven”.

The word for eight in Hebrew – “Shemonah” – when shuffled as an anagram spells out the word “Neshamah” – the Soul – and also “Mishnah” – the building block of the Oral Torah. Truncate delicately, and we are left with the “Shemen” – Oil, the center of the Chanukah miracle and the reason of the celebration. The Hebrew word for nature is “Teva”. “Teva” has two connotations that may help us gain an insight into the nature of nature. “Teva” implies drowning or sinking, because we are sunken into and swallowed up by this physical world. “Teva” also is related to the word “matbeah” – coin – referring to a coin that has an image impressed upon it. Similarly the natural world impresses; so much so that our senses are so stimulated that any inkling of anything beyond is naturally overwhelmed.

The Hebrew word for “The Natural World”, HaTeva, has the same numerical value for the Holy Name – Elokim. Meaning that our definition of nature is actually repeated miracles. If something happens predictably we call it natural. When it happens  once, we call it a miracle. We are alerted, jolted to a super state of awareness, a higher consciousness of reality.

Now the idea of the oil, of eight, of soul, of the Oral Torah, rises and rides high above and beyond the confines of mere nature. Eight encompasses the sphere of seven enriching days and extending it. When penetrated it anoints even natural life with a tinge of the miraculous.

During the Eight days of Chanukah we should know that each day represents something much bigger than just another day of the holiday. It represents the supernatural quality of each and every day and our ability to transcend nature to the supernatural.

Happy Chanukah!!!