And for the miracles and for the salvation and for the mighty deeds and for the victories and for the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time. –Al HaNisim prayer
On Chanuka and Purim, we add “Al HaNisim” (for the miracles) to the Shmoneh Esrei (silent devotion) and to Birkat HaMazon (grace after meals).
Why is “Al HaNisim” specifically added on these two holidays?
The Tosefta Brachot states that on holidays where we do not recite musaf (the additional silent prayer) as in Chanuka and Purim, “me’ein hameora” (expression of the nature of the day) is added to the Shmoneh Esrei. The Tosefta does not call it “Al HaNisim” as the formula for the prayer was different. The first time that we see the full text is in Seder Rav Amram Gaon and in the siddur of Rav Saadya Gaon. In the Talmud Yerushalmi Brachot, we see that “me’ein hameora” is also recited in Birkat HaMazon.
The Levush (Rabbi Mordechai Jaffe) comments that “Al HaNisim” contains a double measure of praise, for the miracles performed in ancient days (in those days) and also for the hidden miracles that are constantly performed every day (at this time) to preserve life and health, both for the individual and for the nation.
The Yeminite siddur concludes the prayer with a request:
Just as you performed miracles and mighty deeds for them, so too should you perform miracles and mighty deeds for us at this time.
While the introductory line of “Al HaNisim” is the same on both holidays, the rest of the prayer is different reflecting the history and context of when the holiday took place.
Rabbi Yisachar Yaakovson summarizes the paragraph that we recite on Chanuka:
The wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people, Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your Will. Even though the army did fight, it is God who sent the victory and therefore it says “You avenged their wrong…You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak etc.” The result was “For Yourself, You made a great and holy name in Your world and for Your people Israel you worked a great victory and salvation as this very day.” It ends with the cleaning of the Temple and establishment of the holiday: “…they purified the site of Your Holiness and kindled lights in the courtyards of Your sanctuary; and they established these eight days of Chanuka to express thanks (recite Al HaNisim) and praise (recite Hallel) to Your great name.
The miracle that is spoken about here is the hidden miracle that “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure” as well as the purification of the Temple. What is not mentioned is the more obvious miracle of the oil which is discussed in the Talmud, Shabbat 21.
What can be learned from here is that Chanuka is an opportunity to take a step back and appreciate the hidden miracles that we encounter each day which are often taken for granted, yet are just as miraculous as the oil lasting for eight days.