Tonight we will light both Chanukah lights and Shabbat lights. One we can use and one we cannot. According to the Talmud-the Shabbat lights can be used. You can read by the light of the Shabbat tapers! But Chanukah lights you can not use. No reading by the light of the menorah. The light of Chanukah is only to look at and to be reminded of the great miracle of Chanukah!
There is a great debate about what is the actual miracle of Chanukah. Some say it is the story in the Talmud Shabbat 21b:
What is the reason for Chanukah? For our Rabbis taught: On the 25th of Kislev begin the days of Chanukah, which are eight, during which lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils in it, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they [the Hasmoneans] searched and found only one cruse of oil which possessed the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient oil for only one day’s lighting; yet a miracle occurred there and they lit [the lamp] for eight days. The following year these days were appointed a Festival with the recitation of Hallel and thanksgiving.
This is the traditional answer. As I shared with you on night two the teaching of Rabbi David Hartman z’l, my teacher the miracle of the Maccabees was not that it lasted but they had the courage to light the Menorah in the temple on the first night knowing that they didn’t have enough oil to last. They lit it anyway- not knowing what the future would bring!
Others say the miracle is the fact that the Macabee army defeated the most powerful army in the world! After a raging and often bloody three year war the Macabees recaptured the temple and rededicated it ushering in a time of Jewish sovereignty. That is the miracle of Chanukah too-a true Jewish nation!
And yet others teach the miracle of Chanukah is the light itself. The Light is symbolic of God’s Presence here on earth. If you read the TANACH, each time the temple is dedicated or rededicated God takes up residence in the holy space with a power light. It is God that is in the light that beams forth from our Menorot. It is God’s presence in our lives that helps to brings light to a dark world at the darkest time of year. That is why this is indeed the Festival of Lights.
There are lots of miracle to go around! So give thanks for this holiday, for family and friends, and indeed for God’s light showing us the way!