The number eight is central to Chanukah. The festival itself lasts for eight days and we light an additional candle each night, culminating with eight candles. Chanukah itself comes to a climax on the eighth and last day which is given the title “Zos Chanukah” – “this is Chanukah”, suggesting the number eight is wrapped up in the essence of the festival.
What is special about the number eight and what is the link to Chanukah?
I once heard the following explanation from Rabbi Pinchos Roberts. The Greeks espoused a philosophy of rationality and denied the possibility of “l’maala min hatevah”, the concept of the supernatural.
This was the target of the three edicts the Greeks decreed against Klal Yisroel. Shabbos, Milah and Chodesh. Each represent an aspect of l’maala min hateva.
Tell a shopkeeper who shuts his store early that this act of mesiras nefesh will actually bring blessing. As the Maharal notes, the very number eight represents “beyond nature”. The number six represents the physical, seven is injecting spirituality into the physical and eight is the level beyond nature. That is what milah is – on the eight day. And “chodesh” represents a Supernatural Power governing the solar system.
The very purpose of Chanukah is to counter that philosophy. To proudly declare that HKBH runs the world and proclaim the message of number eight. “Zos Chanukah” – this is Chanuka, this is the very essence of what Chanukah is about. The eighth day epitomises the concept of “l’maala min hatevah”, the supernatural.
Chanukah is of course linked to the word “Chinuch” – “education” and is the festival of the original Hasmoneans. I often feel that what we achieve at Hasmonean is “l’maala min hatevah”.
In today’s world it is harder than ever to impart spirituality to young people and yet here at Hasmonean we continue to strive for excellence in both kodesh and chol, achieving excellent exam results when so much of the school days is dedicated to kodesh. And most importantly, to produce students who are rooted in Yiddishkeit and are learned and passionate Jews who can also make their way in this world and live productive and meaningful lives, contributing to the society in which they live.
But as much as we live and engage in this world, we recognise that there is a concept of “l’maala min hatevah”, and that is felt at Hasmonean, not just at Chanukah but all year round.
Wishing you all a happy Chanukah and a good Shabbos.
Rabbi J Golker