Today is November 30, 2023 / /

The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Why Do We Light?

by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff (Posted on September 13, 2016)
Topics: Chanuka, Moadim/Holidays

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

This article is part of Torat Chovevei, a Community Learning Program led by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah with the support of the Covenant Foundation. The goal of the program is to connect communities to YCT through the medium of Torah learning. All topics discussed weave relevant contemporary issues together with Torah and non-Torah sources in monthly home-based learning groups (chaburot). These groups are guided by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff, Rebbe and Director of Community Learning at YCT. For further information about Torat Chovevei, and how your community can get involved, please contact Rabbi Resnikoff at



The purpose of lighting Hanukkah candles is פרסומי ניסא which translates into creating a communal feeling of participating in the miracle. This participation needs to be more tangible than it is right now. I offer two ways of making פרסומי ניסא relevant. One, that we need to let Hanukkah be a reminder that we experience miracles every day that we need to publicize. And the other, that by engaging in these rituals, we link ourselves to the actual miracles that occurred and essentially prolong the life and the effect of the miracle. In either case, these sentiments need to be expressed more clearly in the context of the holiday but not necessarily through a ritual of reciting a text.

Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chaim, ch. 670

בבית שני כשמלכו אנטיוכוסים הרשעים גזרו גזירות על ישראל ובטלו דתם הקדושה ולא הניחו אותם לעסוק בתורה ובמצות ופשטו ידם בממונם ובבנותיהם ונכנסו למקדש ופרצו בו פרצות וטמאו הטהרות והצירו לישראל ולחצום לחץ גדול עד שריחם עליהם ד’ א-לקי אבותיהם והושיעם מידם והצילם ע”י בני חשמונאים הקדושים והטהורים הכהנים הגדולים מתתיהו ובניו שנלחמו עם אנטיוכוס ויכלו לו והנצחון היה שלא בדרך הטבע כי החשמונאים עם חבורת החסידים היו מעטים מאד ואנטיוכוס בא עליהם בעם רב ובפילים הרבה וברכב ופרשים אך ד’ החפץ בעמו ישראל מסר גבורים ביד חלשים ורבים ביד מעטים וטמאים ביד טהורים ורשעים ביד צדיקים והזדים מישראל שנסתפחו לאנטיוכוס ג”כ נהרגו ונמסרו ביד עוסקי התורה ואז נתגדל ונתקדש שם שמים בעולם ואור התורה הופיע בעצם טהרתה ושם ישראל נתגדל בעמים:

סעיף ב
וגמר הנס היה בכ”ה בכסלו ועוד נס אחר הראו להם מן השמים ע”י נר מצוה ותורה אור כדגרסינן בשבת [כ”א:] מאי חנוכה דתנו רבנן בכ”ה בכסלו יומי דחנוכה תמניא אינון דלא למספד בהון ודלא להתענות בהון שכשנכנסו אנשי אנטיוכס להיכל טמאו כל השמנים שבהיכל וכשגברו בית חשמונאי ונצחום בדקו ולא מצאו אלא פך אחד של שמן שהיה מונח בחותמו של כהן גדול ולא היה בו אלא להדליק יום אחד נעשה בו נס והדליקו ממנו שמנה ימים לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום יום טוב בהלל והודאה:

Sec. 1
In the time of the Second Temple, when Antiochus the Wicked ruled, they made decrees on Israel and nullified their holy religion and didn’t permit them to engage in Torah and Mitzvot. And they laid hands on their money and their daughters and entered the Temple and desecrated it and polluted the pure things. And they persecuted Israel and oppressed them with great oppression until God, the God of their fathers had mercy on them and redeemed them from their hands and saved them through the agency of the children of the holy and pure Hasmoneans, the high priests Matthias and his sons who fought with Antiochus and overcame him. And the victory was not in the way of nature because the Hasmoneans with their band of the pious were very few and Antiochus came against them with a great nation and many elephants and with chariots and riders. But God who favors God’s nation Israel delivered the powerful into the hands of the weak and the many into the hands of the few and the impure into the hands of the pure, and the wicked into the hands of the righteous and the corrupt of Israel who joined Antiochus also were killed and delivered into the hands of the followers of Torah. And thus the name of Heaven ws made great and holy in the world and the light of the torah appeared in the essence of its purity. And the name of Israel was made great among the nations.
Sect. 2
And the completion of the miracle was on the 25th of Kislev. And another miracle was shown to them from the heavens through the agency of a candle that represents mitzvoth and the Torah which is the light. As it says in Tractate Shabbat: What is Hanukkah? As the Rabbis taught…when the followers of Antiochus entered the Sanctuary , they desecrated all of the oils in the Sanctuary. And when the House of the Hasmoneans was powerful and defeated them, the searched and only found one cruse of oil which had the seal of the high priest on it. And it only contained enough to light (the menorah) for one day. A miracle was done through it and they lit from it for eight days. The next year the fixed them and made them holidays of praise and thanksgiving.

Ibid., ch. 671

סעיף א
ולפי שאירע הנס בנרות תקנוה להדליק נרות בכל לילה כדי להזכיר הנס…
Sect. 1
And since the miracle occurred with candles, they established that we should light candles every night in order to memorialize the miracle…


  1. Aruch HaShulchan above discusses two miracles but when he gives the halakhot of lighting candles, he states that it’s in order to “memorialize the miracle.” What does he mean by “memorialize” and which miracle is he talking about? Does it matter?

Tur, Orach Chaim, ch. 672

מצותה מסוף שקיעת החמה עד חצי שעה מן הלילה שאז העם עוברין ושבין ורואין בביתם ואיכא פירסומי ניסא הילכך צריך ליתן בה שמן כזה השיעור ואם נתן בה יותר יכול לכבות לאחר שיעבור זה הזמן וכן יכול להשתמש לאורה לאחר זה הזמן שעבר עיקר מצותה ומ”מ עדיין זמנה כל הלילה ודלא כהרמב”ם ז”ל שכתב שכח או הזיד ולא הדליק עם שקיעת החמה מדליק עד שתכלה רגל מן השוק עבר זה הזמן אינו מדליק … והתוספות כתבו דלדידן א”צ לדקדק בזמן שנתנו חז”ל שיעור שלא נתנוהו אלא להם שהיו מדליקין בחוץ ולאחר זה הזמן אין עוברין ושבין אבל אנו שמדליקין בבית ואין היכירא אלא לבני הבית אין להקפיד על הזמן וכתב בס”ה ומ”מ נכון להדליק בעוד בני הבית נעורין ונראה שאף לדידן צריך לדקדק בשיעור שאע”פ שמדליקין בפנים כיון שמדליקין בפתח הבית והוא פתוח יש היכירא לעוברים ושבים(ד):
The Mitzvah (of lighting the candles) is from the end of sunset until a half an hour into the night for this is the time when the nation are coming and going and they see in their house and there is publicity of the miracle. Therefore, one must put enough oil for this amount of time. And if one put more, one can put out the candles after this time has passed and one can use the light after this time for the essence of the mitzvah has passed. And in any case, the time for lighting is still all night. And this is not like the position of the Rambam who wrote, “If one forgot or intentionally didn’t light with the setting sun, they may light until people have left the marketplace. Once this time has passed, they may not light.” … And the Tosafot wrote that for us, we do not need to be precise about the time that the Sages gave, for they only gave it for those who lit outside, and after this time, there are not more people coming and going. But we who light indoors and only the members of the household are aware of it, there is no need to be precise about this time. And it is written in Sefer HaTerumah, “And in any case, it is correct to light while the members of the household are awake…

Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chaim, ch. 672

ויש מי שרוצה לומר דאחר חצות ידליק בלא ברכה ולא נראה לומר כן דכל זמן שבני הבית נעורים ידליק בברכה אך כשהם ישינים ידליק בלא ברכה [שם] שהרי אין היכר לשום איש ואנן בעינן שיהא היכר לאחרים לבד המדליק אמנם אם רק יש איש אחד או אשה אחת או תינוק ותינוקת קצת בעלי דעת יברך שהרי להם יש היכר ואפילו הדליקו כבר בעצמם מ”מ סוף סוף יש להם היכר
And there is a position that wants to say that after midnight, one should light without a bracha. And it does not seem right to say this. For as long as the members of the household are awake, they can light with a bracha. But when then are asleep, one should light without a bracha, for behold, there is no awareness to anyone, and we require that there should be awareness for others besides the one who lights. However, if there is only one man or one woman or a child who are even partially self-aware (in addition to the one who is lighting), one can make a bracha because they have awareness and even if they have already lit themselves (the others), in any case, they have awareness.


  1. According to the texts above, what is the purpose of lighting? How do we ensure that that purpose is fulfilled? What needs to be avoided at all costs?
  2. Who are we trying to publicize the miracle to? Jews? Don’t they already know about it? Non-Jews? How are they supposed to get the message just because there are candles in the window? What’s the point of פרסומי ניסא?

Veterans Day Proclamation, Dwight D. Eisenhower, October 8, 1954

…NOW, THEREFORE, I, DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day. On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting and enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain. I also direct the appropriate officials of the Government to arrange for the display of the flag of the United States on all public buildings on Veterans Day…
IN WITNESS THEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and cause the Seal of the United States of America to be affixed.
DONE at the City of Washington this eighth day of October in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and [SEAL] fifty-four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and seventy-ninth.
By the President:
Secretary of State.
[F.R. Doc. 54-8050; filed, Oct. 11, 1954; 10:43 a. m.]


  1. The theme of Veteran’s day according to the proclamation is to “solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting and enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.” What actions does he suggest to reinforce that theme?  How successful is that action on the whole?
  2. Would it be helpful to read the first Presidential Proclamation every Veteran’s day in order to impart meaning to the day?

Rabbi Shlomo Luria (1510-1573), Responsa, ch. 85

מיד אחר גמר הדלקת הנר הראשון שהוא עיקר יאמר הנרות הללו ויגמור ההדלקות בעוד שאומר הנרות כו’. וזו נוסחה הנרות הללו אנו מדליקין על התשועות ועל הניסים ועל הנפלאות שעשית לאבותינו ע”י כהנך הקדושים וכל שמונת ימי חנוכה הנרות הללו קדש הם ואין לנו רשות להשתמש בהן אלא לראותן בלבד כדי להודות לשמך על נפלאותיך ועל ניסך ועל ישועתך.
Immediately after lighting the first candle, which is the essence, they should say, ‘These candles…’ and complete the lighting at the time that they say ‘these candles’. And this is the text: These candles that we are lighting are for the redemptions and the miracles and the wonders that you did for our fathers by the hands of your holy priests. And all eight days of Hanukkah, these candles are holy. And we have no permission to use them, we may only look at them in order to give thanks to your name for your wonders and your miracles and your redemptions.


  1. Is this sufficient to create the kind of community consciousness that פרסומי ניסא seems to be aimed at? Is there a different way we could recite this text or a different time that would help it have more meaning? Are there other texts that would be helpful?

Maharal, Hidushe Aggadot, Shabbat 21b

…וי”ל שעיקר מה שקבעו ימי חנוכה בשביל מה שנצחו את היונים, רק שלא היה נראה שהי’ נצחון ע”י נס הש”י שעשה זה ולא מכחם וגבורתם, ולפיכך נעשה הנס ע”י נרות המנורה שידעו שהכל היה בנס המלחמה ג”כ.
ודוקא נס זה נעשה, כי עיקר רשעת היונים שטמאו את ההיכל…והש”י ראה רשעתם שטמאו היכל שלו, ונתן כח ביד חשמאני [ובניו] שהם כהנים עובדי השם בהיכלו, ואלו נצחום דוקא ולפיכך כאשר נצחום טהרו את המקדש… וכאשר לא היה להם שמן נעשה להם נס כדי שיוכלו לטהר ולא אחרים:
…And one could say that the essence of the establishment of the days of Hanukkah was because of the victory over the Greeks. However, it was not evident that it was a victory by way of a miracle of God who did this and not through their strength and courage. Therefore the miracle was done by way of the lights on the menorah so that they knew that everything was a miracle, the war as well.
And this miracle was specific. Because the essence of the wickedness of the Greeks was that they defiled the Temple… And the blessed God saw their wickedness, that they defiled his Temple, and God gave strength to the Hasmoneans who were priests, servants of God in God’s Temple and these specifically defeated them. And therefore, when they defeated them, they purified the Temple… and when they didn’t have oil, a miracle was done fo them so that they and no others would be able to purify the Temple.

Pene Yehoshua, Tractate Shabbat 21b

מאי חנוכה … ולכאורה יש לתמוה כל טורח הנס זה למה דהא קי”ל טומאה הותרה בציבור והיו יכולין להדליק בשמן טמא…לכך נראה דעיקר הנס לא נעשה אלא להודיע להם חיבת המקום עליהם…והואיל ואיתרחיש להו ניסא בעיקר הענין שנגאלו גאולה שלימה מיד מלכות יון…ועכשיו שנגאלו ונעשה להם נס גדול ששלטו בשונאיהם, לכך נעשה להם ג”כ נס זה בענין הנרות שהוא עדות לישראל שהשכינה שורה…לכך נעשה להם נס בזה הענין ממש באותן הימים שהיו עת רצון להודיע שחזרו לחיבתן הראשונה, כן נראה לי נכון:
‘What is Hanukkah…’ And apparently, we could wonder, why was all the bother of this miracle necessary? For we hold that impurity is permitted when the entire community is impure and they cold have lit with impure oil! …Therefore it appears that the essence of the miracle was only done in order to make them aware of the love God had for them… And since a miracle happened for them in the essence of the thing, that they were redeemed a complete redemption from the hand of the kingship of wicked Greece… and now that they were redeemed and a great miracle was done for them, that they overcame their enemies, therefore, there was this miracle of the lights was also done for them exactly in those days which was a time of acceptability before God in order to let them know that they had returned to their original belovedness. Thus it appears to me.


  1. According to these two sources, what was the meaning of the miracle of the lights? What does this add to our understanding of פרסומי ניסא? By what method could we transmit this understanding of the miracle?

Sefat Emet (1847-1905), Bereshit, “On Hanukkah”

ענין פרסומי ניסא. כי הנס למעלה מהטבע וע”י המעשה במצות נר חנוכה ושאר התעסקות הלל והודאה. ממשיכין הארת הנס בעוה”ז ומתפשט כח הנס כי מצות התלוין במעשה הנס הן המה כח התפשטות הנס. וזה שמברכין שעשה נסים בעת הדלקה אף כי היו צריכין לברך על הימים אף שאין לו להדליק. ובגמ’ משמע שאין מברכין רק המדליק או הרואה נר חנוכה. ולפי דברינו מבואר כי אין תפיסה בגוף הנס רק ע”י המצות יש לאדם קצת התדבקות בנס ויכול לברך כנ”ל:
The idea of publicizing the miracle is that the miracle is above nature, and by way of the mitzvah of the Hanukkah candles and the other engagements (of Hanukkah): praise and gratitude we continue the illumination of the miracle in this world and the power of the miracle spreads. For the mitzvahs that are based on the act of the miracle, they themselves are the power of the spread of the miracle. And this is why we say the bracha, “Who performs miracles” at the time of lighting, even though we should bless the day, even if we are unable to light. And in the Gemara it says that we only make the bracha on the Hanukkah candle. And according to our words, it is clear because there is only attachment to the actual miracles. And only by way of the mitzvoth, a person has the ability to cling to the miracle and they can make the bracha.

Koren-Sacks Siddur, p. 142

מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ שֶׁאַתָּה הוּא ה’ אֱ-לֹקֵינוּ וֶאֱ-לֹקֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ לְעוֹלָם וָעֵד, צוּר חַיֵּינוּ, מָגֵן יִּשְעֵנוּ אַתָּה הוּא לְדוֹר וַדוֹר. נוֹדֶה לְךָ וּנְסַפֵּר תְּהִלָּתךָ עַל חַיֵּינוּ הַמְּסוּרִים בְּיָדְךָ וְעַל נִשְׁמוֹתֵינוּ הַפְּקֻדּוֹת לָךְ, וְעַל נִסֵיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל יוֹם עִמָנוּ, וְעַל נִפְלְאוֹתֶיךָ וְטוֹבוֹתיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל עֵת, עֶרֶב וּבֹקֶר וְצָהֳרַיִם. הַטּוֹב – כִּי לֹא כָּלוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ, וְהַמְּרַחֵם – כִּי לֹא תַּמּוּ חֲסָדֶיךָ, מֵעוֹלָם קִוִּינוּ לָךְ.We give thanks to You for You are the Lord our God and God of our ancestors for ever and all time. You are the Rock of our lives, Shield of our salvation from generation to generation. We will thank You and declare Your praise for our lives, which are entrusted into Your hand; for our souls, which are placed in Your charge; for Your miracles which are with us every day; and for Your wonders and favors at all times, evening, morning and midday. You are good – for Your compassion never fails. You are compassionate – for Your loving-kindnesses never cease. We have always placed our hope in You.


  1. These are two texts that give religious meaning to פרסומי ניסא. Do either of them resonate more? Would there be a value in reading one or both of them as part of our Hanukkah celebrations? Is another text what we need in this case?