By Rav Jesse Horn, Yeshivat Hakotel
In order to understand the Al HaNisim prayer of Chanukah better, it pays to contrast it with the Al HaNisim of Purim. Both texts open with a similar phrase, “Bimay . . . ” “In the days of” and then list the central characters in the respective holiday; Mordechai and Ester in the Purim text and Matisyahu Ben Yochanan, the Chashmonayim and his sons in Chanukah’s. Then each Al HaNisim prayer continues with the potential threat, the Chanukah text records the Greek kingdom’s threat, and Purim’s one Haman’s. However, the description of the danger Haman imposed is significantly richer with detail than that of the Greek kingdom’s. Interestingly, there are more synonyms and descriptions mentioned with Purim. One simple question to ask is, why? Why is the Al HaNisim text of Purim more extensive in detail?
The second section of the Chanukah’s and Purim’s Al HaNisim each begins with the same phrase as well, “V’Atah B’rachamecha HaRabim” “And you with great mercy” and proceeds to describe the salvation. However in this second section, the Chanukah text is more descriptive, offering more detail in the military victory than the Purim text does. And again, it pays to ask why.
Perhaps the greatest difference between the two Al HaNisim texts is that after both describe the threat and salvation, the Chanukah text continues with a third section demarcated with the same phrase “Shem Gadol” “Great name” in the beginning and “L’Shimcha HaGadol” “Your great name” at the end. This third section captures an extra dimension that exists only for Chanukah and not Purim. The extra paragraph describes how the Jews retook and entered into the Beis HaMikdash, cleaned and purified it and established Chanukah. What is its significance and why does it exist for Chanukah only?
In order to answer our questions – why there are more details regarding Purim’s threat and Chanukah’s salvation and also what third dimension exists by Chanukah and not by Purim – it pays to look at the difference between the holidays themselves.
Perhaps the primary difference between Purim and Chanukah is that Purim is a story where Jews survive while Chanukah is one about how they thrive. The Purim miracle enables the Jews to avoid annihilation destruction, yet at the end of the Purim story, they return to their original and neutral status. Purim took place outside of Israel, where the goal is survival, and that is what the Purim miracle ensured. Chanukah, by contrast, took place in Israel, a place to build the Jewish future. It is therefore not surprising that the Chanukah story ends with a greater climax; namely the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash and the powerful opportunity that brings.
It is for precisely this reason that the description of Purim’s threat is more properly developed. Since it took place outside of Israel, a place for Jewish survival, the focus of the Al HaNisim text is more on the potential threat and less on the salvation. Ultimately, Purim is an example where there was a serious threat and it was thwarted. The Al HaNisim of Chanukah, by contrast, emphasizes the salvation instead. Taking place in Israel the Chanukah miracle enabled the Jews to return back to the Beis HaMikdash and granted them with an incredible opportunity to bring the Geula to the world. Of course the salvation is stressed.
Based upon this we can now also understand then third element in the Chanukah’s Al HaNisim. Because the Al HaNisim on Chanukah is designed to capture the potential the Jewish people have specifically when there is a Beis HaMikdash, it has a third section; one designed to illustrate the significance and great importance of rededicating the Beis HaMikdash and the opportunity to praise and share with the world Hashem’s “L’Shimcha HaGadol” “Your great name.”
Originally published by Arutz Sheva