Chanukah was instituted in memory of the miracles that occurred to our forefathers “in those days at this time.” Throughout Tanach, we find many instances of miraculous victories, in which a handful of Jewish soldiers defeated great armies of our enemies. Why was no holiday instituted for the victory of Gideon and his 300 soldiers over the giant Midian army for example?
Some explain based on the Gemara, which states the Chanukah was not instituted as a holiday until the following year (Shabbos 21b). When they felt inspired on the following year at the same time, they realized that the miracle had left an impression for years to come. Therefore, it was instituted as a recurring holiday throughout the years.
Still, this itself requires thought. Why did some miracles, such as Chanukah, Purim, and the Exodus from Egypt, create an impression for years to come, while others, such as Gideon’s victory, did not?
Stipulation with Creation
After the splitting of the Red Sea, we find the verse, וַיָּשָׁב הַיָּם לְאֵיתָנוֹ “The Sea returned to its might.” The Midrash rearranges the letters of this verse, and reads it as וַיָּשָׁב הַיָּם לְתנָאוֹ “the sea returned to its stipulation.” The Midrash explains that when Hashem first created the world, He stipulated with the Red Sea that it would split for Bnei Yisrael (Bereishis Rabbah 5:5).
Part of the stipulation was that after the sea split, it would return to its “might” - to its original state. This was also part of the miracle. It seemed as if everything had gone back to normal, but in fact the sea - even after it returned to its original state - was still experiencing a miracle, which had been stipulated from the beginning of creation.
For this reason, Rebbe Pinchas ben Yair was able to split the Ginai River (Chullin 7a). He accessed the miracle of the splitting of the sea, which was still present in creation even after the Red Sea regained its original form.
The Gemara tells the story of a man whose wife died and left him with a small baby. He could not afford to hire a nursemaid for the baby, so Hashem made for him a miracle and enabled him to nurse the baby himself. One Sage commented on the greatness of this person, that Hashem made such a miracle for him. Another Sage argued that it was a disgrace to this person, that Hashem distorted creation on his behalf rather than just giving him the money to hire a nursemaid (Shabbos 53b).
Why was this considered a disgraceful distortion of nature, whereas miracles such as the jug of oil that burned for eight days were worthy of instituting a holiday in celebration?
Not all Miracles are Supernatural
To understand this better, let us consider what it means the Hashem made a stipulation with creation. He is the Creator and can do as He wills, with or without the consent of His creation. Why did He need to make a stipulation?
Rather, this means that there are scientific laws of how the world operates. A clause was added to these laws that nature would change as necessary for the benefit of Klal Yisrael. These changes are not supernatural, per se, since they do not override the laws of nature. They were a clause in the laws of nature, from the moment that nature itself was first created. Therefore, they are not considered disgraceful distortions of nature.
Holidays were instituted in memory of these miracles, since they became part of the yearly cycle of nature. The miracle of Chanukah created a new pattern of nature. Even when the forces of good face overwhelming opposition from the forces of evil - such that there seems to be no hope at all of victory - the laws of nature dictate that good will indeed triumph over evil, despite all odds. Even if it seems that no light remains, and everything is dark, if we search hard enough, we will find a jug of pure oil with which to rekindle the lights. A point of goodness always remains in every Jewish soul, even if it seems that the Greeks of our times have rendered all the oil of his soul impure.
Throughout our travails in Golus, we have been rescued from the brink of destruction time and time again. As it has been with our nation as a whole, so it is with every individual. Therefore, no matter how bleak the situation might seem, even when no means of rescue is in sight, there is never any cause for despair.
Chanukah and Purim were established as “weekday” holidays (without the restrictions of the other Yomim Tovim) so that the power of their miracles could be felt even in the mundane “weekdays” - the era of spiritual descent before Moshiach’s arrival. Even in the darkest times of our lives, we can find miracles of Chanukah within the natural world that surrounds us.