Why do we Recite Al HaNissim After Modim?
BY RABBI YOSEF ZVI RIMON
The Tosefta (Berachot 83) states that on days when there are special holidays, but when we do not recite Mussaf – that is, on Chanukah and Purim – we insert words of remembrance of the event into our tefillah. The words of remembrance that we recite on these holidays are found in the first siddur, written by Rav Amram Gaon, and they open with the words “Al HaNissim.”
The Gemara (Shabbat 24a) says that Al HaNissim is recited during the Birkat Hoda’ah, also referred to as Modim (thanksgiving blessing). But why do we not recite it during Retzei, the blessing in which we yearn for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple and the blessing in which we insert Ya’aleh VeYavoh on Rosh Chodesh and other holidays?
This question can be answered simply, as Ya’aleh VeYavoh is recited on Biblical holidays when sacrifices are offered in the Temple, and so it is appropriate to mention them in the blessing of Retzei, the blessing in which we pray for the return of the Temple service (the Avodah). However, Chanukah is a Rabbinic holiday that is unrelated to sacrifices and the Temple service, so there is no reason for it to be included in Retzei.
But there is also a more fundamental reason for reciting Al HaNissim in Modim. The blessing of Modim is primarily focused on the hidden miracles that G-d performs on our behalf – וְעַל נִסֶּיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל יוֹם עִמָּנוּ, “and for Your miracles that are with us every day.” The essential purpose of Modim is to seek out G-d within those things that outwardly appear to be natural occurrences.
The Chanukah miracle was a ‘natural’ miracle. The Hasmonean victory in war can be explained as a brilliant tactical victory, stemming from the wisdom or power of the Maccabees. However, upon deeper reflection, it is clear that the Maccabees’ victory was truly a great miracle! When we reflect deeply on nature, we come to realize that G-d stands behind all of existence and causes everything to occur. Therefore, we recite Al HaNissim precisely during Modim, so that we will reflect upon events that appear to be ‘natural’ and learn to see the hidden hand of G-d behind it all.
In light of this we can explain something that at first looks pretty odd – that the name of G-d is entirely absent from the text of Al HaNissim! Although we directly address G-d in this prayer (e.g., “that You did to our fathers,” “and You in Your many mercies stood by them in their trouble,” “and You made a great and holy name in Your world”), the name of G-d is never explicitly mentioned in Al HaNissim! Simply understood, the reason for this is that Al HaNissim is inserted into the middle of the Modim blessing, and since G-d’s name is mentioned earlier in Modim, there is no need to repeat it again in Al HaNissim. But the absence of G-d’s name in Modim may also reflect that the miracle of the war was a ‘natural’ miracle, so we must search for the name of G-d hiding behind the scenes.
What is the purpose of reciting Al HaNissim? The Tosefta states that Al HaNissim is recited simply as a מֵעֵין הַמְּאֹרָע, a way of mentioning the special nature of the day. However, based on Rashi’s words it appears that Al HaNissim is recited because there is a special obligation to individually list the miracles that took place on Chanukah: בַּתְּפִלָּה פְּשִׁיטָא לָן שֶׁהֲרֵי לְהַלֵּל וּלְהוֹדָאָה נִקְבְּעוּ, “Al HaNissim is recited in prayer, for it was established in order to praise and give thanks.” According to Rashi, we understand why Al HaNissim is not recited in Retzei, for Al HaNissim it is not merely a way to mention the special nature of the day, but the fulfillment of our obligation to individually list the miracles of Chanukah and to broaden our thanks for the ‘natural’ miracles “that are with us every day” – a form of thanks that belongs specifically in the blessing of Modim.
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is Head of Mizrachi’s Educational Advisory Board and Rabbinic Council. He serves as the Rabbi of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, Rosh Yeshiva of the Jerusalem College of Technology and is the Founder and Chairman of Sulamot.