Thursday, Sep 16, 2021

The Witnessing of a Neis

The Mechaber in Hilchos Chanukah states that one who didn’t light menorah and doesn’t expect to light his own neiros, should recite, upon seeing neiros Chanukah of another person, the brocha of she’asah nissim: “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has wrought miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this season.” In a basic sense, one would assume that the nissim that the brocha refers to are those that occurred years ago, when the Chashmona’im led Klal Yisroel against the Yevonim, serving as the catalyst for the salvation that Hashem bestowed upon the Bnei Yisroel.

The Sefas Emes adds an additional appreciation to the specific nissim that are being referenced in the brocha. Additionally, with the words of the Sefas Emes, perhaps we can understand the words of the Ramban at the beginning of Parshas Behaaloscha.

Chazal reveal that Aharon Hakohein was upset, because he, as well as his shevet, had not played a role in the chanukas hamizbei’ach, when the altar was inaugurated through the korbanos brought by the heads of each tribe. Hashem told him that he shouldn’t be upset, because he would light and cleanse the neiros of the menorah. The Ramban, in his peirush at the beginning of Parshas Behaaloscha, wonders why it was this specific service that satisfied Aharon. There were other parts to the avodah in the Mishkan that he would perform too. The Ramban answers that here the Torah is alluding to the “Chanukah” of his children, the Chashmona’im, who would be instrumental in bringing salvation to Klal Yisroel.

With the Sefas Emes, we can perhaps appreciate the depth of the words of the Ramban.

The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (21b) reveals the details of what occurred during the era of the second Bais Hamikdosh. The Yevonim entered the Bais Hamikdosh and spiritually defiled all of the oil that was intended to be used for the lighting of the menorah. After the Chashmona’im emerged victorious in their war with the Yevonim, they entered the Bais Hamikdosh and found one flask of oil that was sealed by the kohein gadol, with enough oil to burn for only one day. A neis occurred and it burned for eight days, at which point they were able to produce additional spiritually pure shemen. The specific neiros of the menorah that were kindled during those days when the neis of Chanukah occurred reveal the inner dimension of what the neiros actually represent.

In terms of the nature of the physical world, there was no way that the menorah of the Bais Hamikdosh could burn after the war. Although the physical Bais Hamikdosh stood and the menorah actually existed at that point, there wasn’t enough oil for it to physically burn within the confines of our physical world. Yet it burned, for its capacity to burn was a function of a neis. Hashem created a teva within which His world exists. The concept of a miracle is such that at that point, Hashem is willing to change the teva specifically for a single person or group to reveal the profound and vibrant relationship that He has with the beneficiaries of the neis. Thus, its actual burning was solely a function of a neis. It is this aspect that is present even today in the neiros that we light for Chanukah.

Unfortunately, we have no Bais Hamikdosh and no menorah. Although we possess shemen, it is not pure as is required for the lighting of the menorah of the Bais Hamikdosh. Yet, the Sefas Emes explains that the menorah of the Bais Hamikdosh burns in our homes when we light our neiros Chanukah. During the eight days of the neis after the battle with the Yevonim, when only one flask of shemen was found, the menorah burned through the process of a neis, because there wasn’t enough oil. On Chanukah, the menorah of the Bais Hamikdosh burns at our doors and windows through an active neis as well. We have no Bais Hamikdosh, no menorah and no proper oil, yet the menorah of the Bais Hamikdosh burns through the great neis that is presently occurring on each of the eight days of Chanukah. It is this aspect that enables the brocha of she’asah nissim.

Upon seeing the neiros Chanukah, one is not merely viewing a vehicle that reminds us of a neis that once occurred, but rather the person is actually witnessing the burning of the menorah of the Bais Hamikdosh, which is now burning through a neis once again. Thus, the brocha of she’asah nissim reflects that the person seeing the neiros is actually witnessing the burning of the menorah of the Bais Hamikdosh, and here lies the piyus, or appeasement, that Hashem granted Aharon.

Theoretically, with the churban of the Bais Hamikdosh, just as the avodah of sacrificing the korbanos upon the mizbei’ach was not able to continue, so too, the avodah of Aharon kindling the menorah would cease. In the neis of the victory over the Yevonim, Aharon’s descendants, the Chashmona’im, created a system through which the menorah of the Bais Hamikdosh would continue to burn. Through our lighting of the neiros in our households on Chanukah, the avodah of the menorah survives beyond the days when the physical structure of the Bais Hamikdosh stood.

The end of the brocha recited by one who has seen a Chanukah menorah is, “In those days at this season,” for that is exactly what is occurring. The neis of the burning of the menorah that existed during the days when the Bais Hamikdosh stood, “in those days,” once again exists “in these days,” as well, for when one sees the neiros Chanukah burning, one is actually witnessing the performance of a neis from Hashem.


Rabbi Rapps can be reached at

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