That the overt miracle of Chanukah, the lighting of the Menorah, lasted for eight days, is not accidental, but intrinsic. The Torah informs us that G-d created the world in six days and ceased working on the seventh, the Shabbat. The number six can thus be said to represent the natural world that was created in six days (time) with its six spatial directions (east-west, north-south, up-down). The number seven represents G-d's immanence, the hidden presence of the Divine at the heart and core of this world. In other words, Seven is the very soul of Six, permeating it, instilling it with (transcendent) holiness, and elevating it to its perfection. The next number, eight, represents G-d's transcendence above and beyond this world. Like all miracles, Chanukah happened from the level of "eight", that which is beyond natural law. However, being the last miracle of its kind until the coming of Moshiach, Chanukah had to embody Eight in a unique, special way. It had to breathe Eight.
In Hebrew, the word shmonah (eight) has the same exact letters as hashemen (the oil), neshama (soul), and mishnah (transmitted teaching). As recorded in the Talmud, the Syrian-Greeks had entered the Temple and sullied all its oil. This oil represents the deepest level of the Jewish soul. It represents the Jew's potential to awaken from the deepest slumber of exile, to come to life even (and perhaps especially) under the most trying circumstances. Only one jar of pure oil was found, sealed with the seal of the Kohen Gadol (high priest), the holiest Jew who embodied the level of Eight by virtue of the eight special garments he wore when serving in the Temple.
The siddur informs us that it was Mattityahu the Chashmonai and his sons who rallied the Jews to defend the Torah and fight against the Greeks. The name Chashmonai has two components, the letter chet, the eight letter of the aleph-bet, followed by the word for oil, shemen. Thus, the Cha-shemonai family embodied the power of Eight.
Eight days, Oil and a family of Eights.
"Eight" beckons us to transcend the constrictions of time and space, to see through a world that disguises G-dliness and threatens to engulf our souls in materiality. Eight calls us to see miracles in the order of nature, in confusing events of our individual and collective lives, in the hidden pathways of Divine Providence that guides us.
Eight can rouse us from our collective slumber. By reminding us of the time when G-d did indeed overtly "interfere" with and "alter" the "natural" course of history, it quickens our anticipation of the revelation of G-d's salvation that we await in our time.
Rabbi Avraham Sutton, a popular guest lecturer at Ascent, is one of the original main researchers for the Discovery seminars, the editor-compiler of Aryeh Kaplan's Inner Space and the translator-editor of a new siddur, The Wings of Heaven. This article was adapted from Niflaot #2 and first appeared in Ascent Quarterly #37.