Channukah & Purim: 2 Spheres of Human Perfection

Moshe Ben-Chaim

Why were Channukah and Purim alone made into holidays? Joshua experienced a miraculous victory over Jericho when the walls sunk into the ground. God sent giant stones from the heavens (Joshua, 10:11) on behalf of Joshua as well. There were many instances of miraculously-won wars. What is present in the Channukah and Purim miracles, that they alone deserved to be rendered into perpetual holidays of Pirsumey Nase — proclamations of God's miracles? And what is the objective of Pirsumey Nase?

Examining these two holidays more closely, we find additional features that increase our questions...

During that Macabeean war upon which Channukah was created, we note an oddity. Channuka's famous miracle of oil occurred "after" the war had already ended. For what need was this miracle, being that the Jews were victorious?

We also note that it was the Hasmonian Cohanim — the priests — who fought that war. We understand this was a fact, but why was this necessary for Maimonides to state in his Laws of Channukah? And why does he mention that lighting the Channukah light is a "Mitzvah Chaviva" — a beloved mitzvah? In what manner does this mitzvah surpass all others? 

Turning to Purim, Mordechai omitted God's name from the Megilla. For what reason did he do so? While we appreciate the fact that there were no overt miracles, nonetheless, it was God who orchestrated the timing of many events to deliver the Jews from their enemies. God orchestrated Mordechai's hearing of Bigsan ad Seresh's plot to murder the king. God orchestrated King Achashverosh's reading of Mordechai's unpaid act of saving the king to coincide Haman's midnight appearance to request Mordechai's death. He orchestrated the king's return to the wine feast, to coincide Haman's collapse onto the Queen's bed, angering the king and priming him to convict Haman to death. Other events were orchestrated as well. However, after Mordechai and Esther realized that is was God's hand that saved them, why was God's name omitted?


During Channukah, God used oil — Temple — for the miracle. For it was the Cohanim who demonstrated their adherence to God by taking on such outnumbered odds. Cohanim represent those dedicated to God's service. They fought to preserve the Torah system prohibited by the Greeks. But there was no necessity for the oil in terms of salvation. This "unnecessary" miracle taught the Rabbis that this miracle was of a different nature, and not as Joshua's wars, where the miracles was performed to save the Jews. Of course we understand that God caused our military victory. But the subsequent nature of this miracle of oil was indicative. Thereby, the Rabbis understood that this victory deserved greater significance than other wars. That significance is that the Cohanim fought for the "system of Torah", unlike other wars that were for land, defense or justice. The oil represents the Jews' reestablishment of the Torah system, and was therefore what God used to indicate His providence. The Rabbis grasped this message, and instituted our remembrance of God's salvation, by creating the law around those lights. 

This mitzvah alone of Chanukah lights refers to upholding the "system of mitzvah". All other mitzvahs have as their goal some idea extraneous to the 'total' Torah system. Succah is to recall God's ability to shelter us. Mezuza reminds man of God's unity. But Channukah highlights our ability to perform the Torah system. This would explain why Maimonides calls this a "Mitzvah Chaviva" — a beloved mitzvah, as it embodies Torah as a whole, and not individual objectives, as is the case with regards to other mitzvahs.


Perhaps Mordechai omitted God's name from the Megilla for two reasons. First, to display how exactly God intervened — in a covert manner. Second, to embody the concept that God's providence works with man when he utilizes intelligence, as expressed by Mordechai and Esther's intelligent plan. Through the omission of God's name, man is thereby highlighted in Megilla to stress this point. Mordechai and Esther interacted with the world and society — nature and psychology — using much wisdom. This is the path of life — the derech hachaim — which God desires man to engage in all areas, not only when observing His commands. We thereby observe a new idea derived from Channukah and Purim...

Pirsumey Nase — proclamation of God's miracles

This is to give praise to God for His unnatural providence in cases where He saved our nation, but it is applied to the two spheres in which man operates: 

1) interaction with the world and society: nature and psychology (Purim)

2) adherence to God: Halachik performances (Channukah)

Man lives in two worlds: worldly performances and halachik performances (mitzvah). God intervenes to save us when we deserve it. He intervened — covertly — with Mordechai and Esther to emphasize their cunning and insight when interacting with the world. And God intervened with the Hasmonian priests when they sought to preserve our Torah system.

 The Rabbis deemed it proper to highlight God's intervention in these two areas of human activity when performed according to God's will. Pirsumey Nase is our obligation of praising God for His salvation. We publicize how God interacts with man, even to create unnatural occurrences when we live according to wisdom, and halacha. 

A Rabbi once taught that Channukah and Purim were elevated over other wars, since it was in these two events alone that annihilation of Jewish nation was threatened: religious annihilation during Channukah, and physical annihilation during Purim. Therefore, greater thanks is due to God in these two events. We proclaim His wonders to praise His salvation.

Aside from praise, we are also required to give "thanks" to God. However, Al Hannissim omits any mention of the miracle of oil. Why? This is because the oil is not something for which we thank, but it was used by God to indicate a number of ideas. Thanks is therefore inapplicable. Thanks is used when man benefits, and our benefit on Channukah was salvation. Therefore, the Al Hannissim does not mention the miracle of the oil. It focuses on our military victory, and that God caused this salvation of our lives and Judaism.