As we learned on yesterday’s daf, the second perek of Massekhet Shabbat focuses on Shabbat candle lighting. This discussion leads the Gemara to turn its attention to another set of laws regarding candle lighting, specifically the rabbinic enactment requiring that candles be lit throughout the holiday of Hanukkah.
The holiday of Hanukkah was instituted primarily to commemorate the re-dedication of the altar in the Temple. The Baḥ explains that the Sages instituted kindling lights as the mitzva of Hanukkah to underscore that the Maccabees went to war to preserve the sanctity of the nation and the sanctity of the Temple, not to defend their lives.
The Gemara teaches that the year following the miraculous victory over the Greeks the Sages instituted an eight day holiday of lights. Some point out that since there was sufficient oil to burn for one day, the miracle lasted only seven days. Why, then, is Hanukkah celebrated for eight days? Many answers to this question have been suggested.
Rabbi Yosef Karo maintained that only one eighth of the oil burned on the first day, so it was immediately clear that a miracle had been performed. Others explained that, from the outset, the priests placed only one-eighth of the oil from the cruse in the candelabrum, and it miraculously burned all day (The Me’iri). Yet others suggested that Hanukkah commemorates two miracles; first, the discovery of the cruse of pure oil on the first day, and second, the fact that it lasted seven additional days (She’erit Kenesset HaGedola). There is also an opinion that the eight days commemorate the reinstating of the mitzva of circumcision, banned by the Greeks, which is performed on the eighth day after birth (Sefer HaItim).
Another question was raised regarding the need for an eight day holiday. Why couldn’t a supply of pure oil have been procured sooner? The Ge’onim suggest that the pure oil came from Tekoa in the tribal territory of Asher in the upper Galilee, and the round trip from Jerusalem took eight days. Others say that all the Jews were ritually impure from contact with corpses, and therefore they were required to wait seven days to complete the purification process (Rabbi Eliyahu Mizraḥi).