Thanks and Praise
"They established these eight days of Chanuka as a time to thank and praise Your great Name."
These concluding words of the special Al Hanassim prayer we add to our regular prayers on Chanuka express the essence of the celebration of these eight days. We thank G-d for granting us a miraculous victory over the superior forces of an enemy bent on forcing us to abandon our faith.
But thanks is not enough!
The Hallel we add to our morning prayers on Chanuka is the vehicle for praising the "great Name" of G-d – the way in which the Creator demonstrates that He also runs this world.
The difference between thanks and praise has thus been explained by the Sefas Emes:
We thank G-d for delivering us from a threat to our physical or spiritual security. If someone is given a choice, however, between danger followed by deliverance or an absence of danger, the natural reaction is to choose the latter. Such a choice, however, is the product of shortsightedness. Only when one is exposed to danger and sees the hand of G-d coming to his rescue does he develop an intense awareness of Providence.
This is why it is insufficient to merely thank Heaven for the miracles which made victory over the Hellenists possible. We must also praise Him for having exposed us to a danger and eventually saved us from it because this gave us a greater appreciation of both the mercy and the power of G-d.
When we reflect on the experiences of Jews throughout history, we see glimpses of Chanuka in every generation. Although we have not been privileged to overcome an enemy and return to our Beit Hamikdash as we did in the days of Matitiyahu, we have survived inquisitions, pogroms and even a Holocaust. It has already been said by one of our great Torah scholars that the survival of the Jewish people is the most powerful proof that G-d runs the world.
Let us therefore utilize Chanuka as a time for thanking G-d for the miracles of our survival and praise Him for the experiences that brought us closer to Him. Just as we thank and praise G-d for our miracles as a nation, each of us must also have the same approach to the individual trials we face in life. May the spirit of Chanuka permeate every facet of our lives so that we can learn to be closer to our Creator.