What is Hanukkah About?
1. Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 21b
The Gemara asks: What is Hanukkah, and why are lights kindled on Hanukkah? The Gemara answers: The Sages taught in Megillat Ta’anit: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the days of Hanukkah are eight. One may not eulogize on them and one may not fast on them. What is the reason? When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary by touching them. And when the Hasmonean monarchy overcame them and emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that was placed with the seal of the High Priest, undisturbed by the Greeks. And there was sufficient oil there to light the candelabrum for only one day. A miracle occurred and they lit the candelabrum from it eight days. The next year the Sages instituted those days and made them holidays with recitation of hallel and thanksgiving in prayer and blessings.
What is Gratitude?
2. Devarim 9:1-5
Hear, O Israel! You are about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and more populous than you: great cities with walls sky-high; 2 a people great and tall, the Anakites, of whom you have knowledge; for you have heard it said, “Who can stand up to the children of Anak?” 3 Know then this day that none other than the Lord your God is crossing at your head, a devouring fire; it is He who will wipe them out. He will subdue them before you, that you may quickly dispossess and destroy them, as the Lord promised you. 4 And when the Lord your God has thrust them from your path, say not to yourselves, “The Lord has enabled us to possess this land because of our virtues”; it is rather because of the wickedness of those nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. 5 It is not because of your virtues and your rectitude that you will be able to possess their country; but it is because of their wickedness that the Lord your God is dispossessing those nations before you, and in order to fulfill the oath that the Lord made to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
3. Devarim 8:7-20
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey; 9 a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. 10 When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. 11 Take care lest you forget the Lord your God and fail to keep His commandments, His rules, and His laws, which I enjoin upon you today.
12 When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, 13 and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, 14 beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God—who freed you from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage; 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness with its seraph serpents and scorpions, a parched land with no water in it, who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock; 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers had never known, in order to test you by hardships only to benefit you in the end— 17 and you say to yourselves, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.” 18 Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to get wealth, in fulfillment of the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers, as is still the case. 19 If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve them or bow down to them, I warn you this day that you shall certainly perish; 20 like the nations that the Lord will cause to perish before you, so shall you perish—because you did not heed the Lord your God.
4. Talmud Bavli, Berakhot 35a-b
The fundamental obligation to recite a blessing over food is founded on reason: One is forbidden to derive benefit from this world without a blessing.
The Sages taught in a Tosefta: One is forbidden to derive benefit from this world, which is the property of God, without reciting a blessing beforehand. And anyone who derives benefit from this world without a blessing, it is as if he is guilty of misappropriation of a consecrated object… Similarly, Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: One who derives benefit from this world without a blessing, it is as if he enjoyed objects consecrated to the heavens, as it is stated: “The earth and all it contains is the Lord’s, the world and all those who live in it” (Psalms 24:1).
Rabbi Levi raised a contradiction: It is written: “The earth and all it contains is the Lord’s,” and it is written elsewhere: “The heavens are the Lord’s and the earth He has given over to mankind” (Psalms 115:16). There is clearly a contradiction with regard to whom the earth belongs. He himself resolves the contradiction: This is not difficult. Here, the verse that says that the earth is the Lord’s refers to the situation before a blessing is recited, and here, where it says that He gave the earth to mankind refers to after a blessing is recited.
Creation and the Mitsvot
5. Rav Saadiah Gaon, Emunot Vede’ot I:4
They might ask, based on what cause did the creator create everything that exists?
There are three answers:
- We could say that God created without cause, and even so it was not wasteful, because a person is only wasteful when they do something without cause if they don’t know what value it has, and that’s not relevant when it comes to the creator.
- God wanted to thus reveal his wisdom and display it…
- God wanted to give to the creations, by virtue of his commanding them and their obeying him…
6. Rav Saadiah Gaon, Emunot Vede’ot III:1
Reason obligates a person to respond gratefully to anyone who gives good to them, with a good if the giver needs it, or with thanks if they need nothing. Since this is one of the originary obligations of reason, it is impossible that God would abandon it in regard to himself. Therefore, it is necessary that God would command his creatures to serve him and praise him for creating them…
We will perform those we were commanded to desire, and those we were warned to avoid, from the perspective of obedience, and in this second sense they are included within the first part.
Gratitude for What? and to Whom?
7. Rav Menachem Froman, Hasidim Tsohakim Mizeh §62
Rav Froman’s son recounted:
For several years I taught Likkutei Moharan to secular students. One of the usual students said that came and loved learning, despite being a total atheist and not believing in God at all. Once, when we learned a lot about giving thanks and the importance of gratitude, she was really inspired by the class and came at the end to tell me that she felt a very deep sense of gratitude for everything in her life. I asked her, “If you don’t believe in God, then to whom are you giving thanks?” She said that this was a really good question, and she would have to think about it.
That evening, when I got home, I told my father what happened in the class, proud of what I had said and that she would soon repent…
My father said to me, “I don’t think you helped her spiritually at all. Her sense of gratitude, without any consciousness of to whom she was grateful, could very possibly have been much greater than your religious gratitude, because you have specific answers and exact explanations regarding to whom you give thanks.”