Gershon Hepner

The Miracle of the First Night of Hanukkah

We used to be inspired by all objects that we found

and didn’t take for natural on the ground

when we were prehistoric beings, just as we

should be by all that comes as naturally


just as the great menorah’s ritual rays

on Hanukkah burned first of its eight days.

No less miraculous than those on all the rest,

the miracle called nature became manifest.


Miraculous the way the oil burns always bright!

That miracle we celebrate, the first dark night,

before the others on which we recall how just

a little oil although it burned did not combust.


The first reminds us of the miracles that we

will generally ignore because we only see

as quite miraculous what violates the laws

of nature. On the first night nature is the cause

of the miracle we yearly celebrate,

expanding seven days of miracles to eight.


The first night’s celebration is of nature: heaven

must wait for recognition on the other seven.

The miracles of nature have an equal worth

to those which heaven by a miracle gives birth:

a miracle which we as humans should not foil

with carbon that’s derived from prehistoric oil.

The Rabbis chose Hanukkah, a festival that revolves around oil’s ability to burn, as the time to teach the fundamental truth that even so-called “natural” events take place only because God wants them to.

Rabbi Hanina Ben Dosa expressed this opinion while explaining a miracle that occurred in his own home. When his daughter became upset having realized that she had lit the Shabbat candles with vinegar instead of oil. Rabbi Hanina calmed her, saying, “Why are you concerned! The One Who commanded oil to burn, can also command vinegar to burn!” The Talmud in Taanit 25a reports that those Shabbat lights burned bright for many hours.

The commandment that Hanukkah be observed even on the first of its eight reminds us that even the “normal” burning of oil occurs only in obedience to God’s wish. This is a miracle that is particularly relevant in an era when climate is being altered by the burning of prehistorically created oil, and perhaps explains the opinion of Rabbi Ishmael cited in the mishnah in Shabbat 2:2, that prehistoric oil may not be used to light candles on Shabbat.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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