Why is Chanukah an eight-day holiday? With respect to the eight days being contingent on a miracle of a small amount of oil lasting eight days, there are many answers for the question. But in truth, the miracle of the oil is not the reason why the holiday is eight days long.
Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein gathered a few reasons in his Arukh HaShulchan. After describing the miracles of the battles surrounding the Chanukah tale, he writes, “And the end of the miracle was on the 25th of Kislev.” This acknowledges that first and foremost, like at Purim, the celebration of this holiday is primarily a celebration of a military victory. Unlike Purim, however, Chanukah is uniquely observed for eight days.
While Rabbi Epstein describes the miracle of the oil, he does not attribute the eight day celebration to details surrounding the oil, rather that “there is someone who wrote, “[Eight days are commemorated,] since they [forbade] the commandment of circumcision, which is for eight days.”
And there is one who wrote that it is because they then inaugurated the Temple for the service that the evil Antiochus had forbidden, “and [the last reason] is the truth.”
Continuing: “In the midrash it is found that the work of the tabernacle was finished on the 25th of Kislev, and they did not inaugurate it until the beginning of the month of Nissan, when the forefathers had been born. And the Holy One, blessed be He, payed [Israel] back in the time of Mattityahu (this midrash is brought by Maharsha, Shabbat 21b). And hence they made it like the inauguration of the Tabernacle, which was [composed of] the seven days of installation and the eighth day, [which] was the completion of the beginning of the service in the Tabernacle by Aharon and his sons, as is explained in the Torah. …
“And another reason for this is elucidated in the Book of the Maccabees: Since, as a result of the decrees, they were stopped from bringing the sacrifices of the holiday of the past Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. And hence, to commemorate this, they made the eight days of Channukah. And [it followed] that when from the Heavens they were shown the miracle of the oil, ‘they’ showed them that ‘they’ agreed to them making eight days. …”
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The idea is quite simple. In the moment, when they realized they were going to dedicate the Temple again, and when they realized they had missed the holiday of Sukkot, they committed to making this rededication an eight-day event. They had no idea that they would experience an eight-day miracle of oil. And they also had no idea that they’d even find oil!
When they looked back at events that had transpired, the eight-day oil miracle was coincidental to the eight-day observance they had already celebrated. It gave them the idea to “establish the mitzvah of lighting candles,” while also perhaps inspiring that what had been a one-time eight-day rededication ceremony would become a yearly eight-day holiday.
Many take the light of Chanukah to be a metaphor for bringing light to the world. We live in exceptionally dark times. With antisemitic notions being normalized in politics and in media, one wonders how Chanukah can fill the world with light.
The Jewish people have seen dark times in the past. While we hope things will not get darker, we can look to Chanukah as a model of a very dark time in which “the many fell to the hands of the few” and those who carried the torch of Torah emerged, while those trying to destroy them ultimately fell into the dustbin of history.
Military miracles and a reminder that G-d is lighting the way combine to make this holiday.
May we merit to continue to see good people of the world defeat the evil people on the battlefield and in the battlefields of media, and may G-d carry us all through to the light, so the Chanukah celebration can return to what it was always meant to be: a triumph of Jewish ideas and ideals over a hedonism and arrogance that celebrated physicality and the physical world while ignoring true Godliness.
If Chanukah can be the guide to correcting the darkness that is consuming elements of humanity, it will indeed bring a much needed light into this world. And that will be a blessing for everyone who seeks illumination from that light.