Chanukah, 8 days above nature.

The number seven holds great significance in Judaism. It surrounds us all the time, in the days of the week, the days of creation, and the menorah in the Beit Hamikdash of which there are replicas in synagogues worldwide, as well as on the seal of the State of Israel.

But what about eight? Why is Chanukah eight days long, when there seems to be such an emphasis on the number seven?

The Ramban, the famous 13th-century Spanish rabbi, scholar and kabbalist, explains that the number seven arises in all things that are natural. For example, there are seven days in the week, seven notes in an octave, and seven directions in nature – north, south, east, west, down and up. He concludes that the number seven must therefore represent a perfection in the natural world. All things that are seven are said to be complete and whole according to the laws of nature, to which they are also limited.

The number eight then, he explains, would be that which is beyond nature and limits. It represents surpassing the natural order, and things that go above and beyond natural limits. Chanukah demonstrates this concept perfectly.

Chanukah is eight days long because the Maccabees defeated the Greeks even though they were greatly outnumbered; thus, Chanukah celebrates a time when the logical and the natural were surpassed. The Jewish people exemplified a faith and courage that went beyond human nature, and for this reason experienced a miracle above nature — a miracle that lasted eight days. Though there was not enough oil to last more than a single day, the oil defied natural law and continued to burn for eight days.

This reference to the number eight is also seen in brit milah, the circumcision of baby boys at the age of eight days. Traditionally, brit milah is an act that symbolizes our acceptance of God’s covenant with the Jewish people, and our belief in God’s assurance that we will survive despite logic and nature.

To tie in the concept further, man as he was born naturally, during his first eight days of life, is imperfect; then on his eighth day we elevate him above this natural form in order to reach a higher form of perfection and sanctity. Once again, the number eight represents a step above nature and limited perfection.

And so we light a menorah of eight branches on Chanukah, unlike the one in the Beit Hamikdash which had only seven, because the Maccabees’ victory and the lasting of the oil were both occurrences above logic and natural perfection. We have eight days of Chanukah because this occurrence was a miracle gifted to the Jews for exemplifying characteristics of faith above human reason.

It is obviously very difficult living in a modern society to remain unwaveringly faithful to God and our Jewish beliefs. But with the idea of the number eight in mind this Chanukah, we should all attempt to lift ourselves into a different environment, separating ourselves from secularity and nature, and reaching for that pure faith and belief that the Maccabees displayed on Chanukah all those years ago.