The Pri Chadash offers an answer to this very well-known question of the Beis Yosef, suggesting that the lighting of the menorah on the first night (i.e. the night that corresponds to the “non-miraculous” lighting of the first candle for which there was enough oil) was instituted to memorialize a different aspect of the Chanukah miracle, namely the military defeat of the mighty Greeks at the hands of the overmatched Hashmonaim. But what is the correlation between victory in battle and lighting of the Menorah? If we’re celebrating the military victory, let’s do something related to military prowess.
The Medrash Tanchuma says that the lit Menorah miraculously cast a glow upon all courtyards in Yerushalayim. The lights of the Menorah publicized the Name of Hashem and our special status as His chosen people. Since the battle waged was one that revolved around freedom of public, religious expression, the Hashmonaim’s ability to defiantly light the Menorah signaled a decisive victory. Therefore, the annual commemoration the Greek’s defeat is appropriately celebrated on the first night of Chanukah with lighting of the Menorah. That first candle proudly displayed in our windows – small as it might seem – commemorates the true significance of the real battle that was won.
A military achievement, while extraordinary, is a page for the history books about our physical survival. The Chag of Chanukah, however, represented by the iconic Menorah, commemorates not the battle of the Hashmonaim, but the root of the battle: Belief in Hashem at all costs, Jewish pride, and re-attaining the knowledge that we have a special connection with the Borei Olam. No doubt, the Maccabees were war heroes, but their miraculous victory wasn’t the ends, it was a means to achieve the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash and the proliferation of Hashem’s great Name. The Maccabees had the fortitude to win the battle, find the small jar of oil and publicly ignite a symbol of Hashem’s omnipotence.
For most of us (hopefully), we aren’t fighting physical battles on a daily basis. Our spiritual struggle is to increase G-dliness/elokus in the world through mitzvos and kiddushei Hashem.
One possible connection (among many) to this week’s parsha is the way Yosef speak about Hashem after he impresses Paraoh with his dream-interpreting skills. Keep in mind that the Pharaohs were thought of as gods themselves.
Over and over, Hashem’s name is celebrated in chapter 41.
With no hesitation, Yosef proclaims to Paraoh that Hashem is pulling all the strings and calling all the shots. Furthermore, Paraoh himself becomes convinced of this fact, telling his servants that Yosef is filled with the “spirit of Hashem” and that Hashem has elucidated Paraoh’s dreams for Yosef interpret: (41:38-39)
Yosef ascribes all of his abilities to Hashem, impresses this upon the world’s most powerful leader, and convinces him of its truth. In doing so, Yosef performs a tremendous kiddush Hashem by increasing the world’s recognition of Hashem, much like the Hashmonaim many years later.
The military victory of Chanukah and the heroism of the Maccabee Kohanim are exciting aspects of this chag, but the story for them and for us doesn’t end there. The freedom they attained was used to counteract the Greek’s agenda, by infusing kedusha back into the Temple and by realigning the perception of ourselves, our practice and our heritage to fit with a mamlechet Kohanim v’goy kadosh.