One Night of Chanukah?
This year during Chanukah I will be on a wilderness survival trip, and it will be very difficult to properly celebrate the holiday. I certainty won't be able to bring along a Menorah.
So if I am going to celebrate only one day of Chanukah, which is the most significant?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
If a person can only celebrate one day of Chanukah, he should celebrate the first day.
This is similar to a case where a person is in prison, and the authorities agree to permit him to go to synagogue one day. The law is that he should go at the first opportunity, and not wait for a more important day like the High Holidays.
The reason is because one should not allow the opportunity of a mitzvah to pass. Moreover, it is quite conceivable that circumstances will later change and allow for additional observance. Therefore, we do not let the first chance pass. (Sources: Code of Jewish Law OC 90, Mishnah Berurah 28.)
As an important aside, Chanukah candles must be lit in (or at the entrance to) a home rather than out of doors. Thus, you should not light in actual "wilderness," but only after you've pitched your tent for the night.
There may be another reason why the first night is the one to focus on. Chanukah is celebrated for eight days to commemorate the one-day supply of oil that miraculously burned for eight days. But if you think about it, since there was enough oil to burn naturally for one night, nothing miraculous happened on that first night! So why shouldn't Chanukah be just seven days?!
There are many wonderful answers given to this question, highlighting the special aspect of the first day. Here are a few:
1) True, the miracle of the oil did not begin until the second day, and lasted for only seven days. But the Sages designated the first day of Chanukah in commemoration of the miraculous military victory.
2) Having returned to the Temple and found it in shambles, the Jews had no logical reason to think they would find any pure oil. The fact that the Maccabees didn't give up hope, and then actually found any pure oil at all, is in itself a miracle.
3) The Sages chose Chanukah, 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.
The Talmudic Sage Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa expressed this truth in explaining a miracle that occurred in his own home. Once, his daughter realized that she had lit the Shabbos candles with vinegar instead of oil. Rabbi Chanina calmed her, saying, "Why are you concerned! The One Who commanded oil to burn, can also command vinegar to burn!" The Talmud goes on to say that those Shabbos lights burned bright for many hours (Taanit 25a).
To drive this truth home, the Sages decreed that Chanukah be observed for eight days: The last seven to commemorate the miracle of the Menorah, and the first to remind us that even the “normal” burning of oil is only in obedience to God's wish.
In closing, I'm not sure what's stopping you from celebrating more than one day? At a minimum, you can light one candle sometime during the evening, and that fulfills the mitzvah of Chanukah - no “official Menorah” necessary. With so much joy to be had, why limit yourself to one night only?!