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There are two commandments during the year that are explicitly associated with "publicizing the miracle" ("פירסומי ניסא"): lighting Chanuka candles and reading Megilat Esther on Purim. These are the two commandments that are associated with the blessing "... Who performed miracles for our ancestors on those days, in this season." Given that these two commandments share a goal (though they might each have other goals), I am wondering why they seem to take very different approaches to that goal, each with its own apparent strengths and weaknesses with respect to accomplishing it.

  • Lighting candles is a purely symbolic act that seems to mean nothing to someone who doesn't know the story, while reading the Megila explicitly tells the story. It would seem that the latter more directly publicizes the miracle.

  • We light candles, preferably, facing the public thoroughfare, while we read the Megila, typically, inside a synagogue, out of the public's eyes. It would seem that the former gets the message out to more people.

So, why do these two practices use such different modes to accomplish the same goal? Why don't they both combine the apparent strengths of both, so that we'd do something like shouting both stories from megaphones in the public square or putting both stories on big, lit billboards?

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Rabbi Shlomo Kluger writes that a miracle which breaks the laws of nature (a revealed miracle) is greater than a miracle that takes place within the laws of nature (a hidden miracle). The miracle of Chanukah was of the first type, and therefore we publicize it greatly for all the world to see.

But the miracle of Purim was clothed in the laws of nature, and thus made it possible for those who deny G-d to deny those events also and to say that they were merely natural events and not the actions of G-d. Therefore, although we are required to publicize the miracle, since is shameful to us that we did not merit the greater miracle (he explains from the gemara in Megillah 11a that this was because that they did not toil in Torah at that time) we do not publicize it so openly.

The full text can be found here.

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    Moshe, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for this answer! I asked this question because I want to deliver a devar Torah on pirsumei nisa, and in the course of thinking about that topic, this question occurred to me. I expect that the article you linked to could prove to be fertile ground for my devar Torah. I look forward to seeing you around on Mi Yodeya.
    – Isaac Moses
    Nov 18 '13 at 18:30
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You may find this answer interesting (from Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky, paraphrazing a Sicha from the Lubavitcher Rebbe):

Whenever a Jew is thankful about his physical survival, he does not have to communicate it to non-Jews, since physical self-survival is a common instinct among all humans and animals, and it is understood that Jews will fight for their physical survival. This type of miracle does not require publicizing among non-Jews. Thus, Purim and Pesach, which commemorate our rescue for physical annihilation and slavery, need not be shared with non-Jews since they are well cognizant that Jews like any other human beings will fight ferociously for their physical survival.

On Chanukah, however, the Jews' spiritual survival and not their physical survival was at stake. The message which we wish to convey to non-Jews is that Jews are willing and able to fight for their spiritual survival as well as their physical well-being, and that the Jews returned from the brink of total assimilation and adopted the Torah, and reestablished their unique relationship with G-d.

The message of Chanukah is more of a sensation to non-Jews than is the message of Purim and Pesach, and thus, the pirsumei nissa conveyed by the Chanukah lights is directed at non-Jews as well.

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  • This makes Pirsumei Nisa sound like a defense mechanism.
    – Double AA
    Nov 19 '13 at 21:35
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    @DoubleAA, don't see that. It is saying that the miracle of physical salvation isn't something perceived as something special to the same degree. It is actually kind of in line with the other answer just from a different angle. That is the way I understand it, anyway.
    – Yishai
    Nov 19 '13 at 21:38
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The following is based on my limited understanding of a machshavah shiur from Rav Moshe Shapira zt”l for parshas Mikeitz 5768. It's part of a devar Torah I wrote up in 5779.

Hashem told Moshe: “…I will give you the stone tablets, and the Torah and the Mitzvah…”1. The stone tablets contained the Ten Commandments. The Torah is the Torah Scroll which we have today2. What does “the Mitzvah” refer to? We are taught that it refers to the explanation of the Torah3. How does the word “Mitzvah”4, which is usually translated as “commandment”, connote an explanation? What is an explanation? It’s a revelation of the true intent or meaning of something. So too a Mitzvah. Mitzvos reveal the Divine Will that is laden within the Torah5. In that sense, a Mitzvah is an explanation of the Torah.

We are taught6 that when Malachi, the last prophet, died, Alexander began his conquest7. A main difference between the time of the prophets and afterwards is the ability to describe something’s essence. A prophet is able to relate something, whereas the Greeks and those that followed them can only relate about something. The Greeks and the scientists are great at providing descriptions of something, but that they can never discuss its essence. That requires Divine knowledge, of which only the prophets have. Since the story of Chanukah occurred after the cessation of prophecy, we can no longer describe the essence of the miracle that took place. Any public recitation or communal storytelling wouldn’t do the miracle justice.

However, reciting from the Torah or the Megillah is different, as they were written by prophets. Miracles that are described in those books aren’t just descriptions about the miracle, they convey the essence of the miracle. We are then able to publicize the miracle in the utmost way. So too when we perform a mitzvah. Since a mitzvah is a revelation of the Divine Will, it’s an explanation of the Torah, by lighting the menorah we are publicizing the miracle8. We aren’t simply describing it, we are revealing its essence9.

I admit this doesn't address why we read the Megillah in shul and not in public. I hope however that this is the start of an answer.


1 Exodus 24:12

2 Berachos 5a

3 Rambam’s *Hakdamah *to Mishneh Torah, based on Berachos loc. cit. Cf. Rashi ad. loc. who seems to explain that it refers to the 613 mitzvos

4 Rav Moshe Shapira pointed out that the word מצוה is a very strange word. It sounds tangential but I believe it was essential for his presentation. Unfortunately, I only understood it enough to leave it as a footnote. What he says is really, the word should be ציווי, which means commandment. Why is the word referred to instead as “Mitzvah”? There are certain roots which can take on different forms, and one form is a combination of them all. For example, the word שופט is a judge, and the נשפט is the one who was judged, the defendant, and the שפיטה is the judgement. משפט is usually the word which ties them all together. It represents the judge ruling a judgement towards or against the defendant. We find a similar case with a loan. A מַלוה is the lender, the לוה is the borrower, and the הלוואה is the loan. All together they can be summarized with the word מִלוה, which connotes a lender giving a loan to the borrower. So too the word Mitzvah. There’s the מְצוֶה, the commander, who commands the מְצוּוֶה, the commanded, the ציווי, the commandment. All of this is summarized with the word מצוה

5 The meforshim (such as Tzafenas Paneach Chatimah to Seder Zeraim, Tikkunei Zohar p. 73a, brought by the Shela Yoma Chapter Derech Chaim Tochechas Mussar 16) point out that if you take the first two letters of מצוה, and perform the א"ת ב"ש conversion, you get י and ה, which are the first two letters of Hashem’s name, combined with the last two letters of מצוה to get the last two letters of Hashem’s name. This name is known as the שם המפורש, literally the explained name. The Rosh (Yoma 8:19) says that this name includes every other name of Hashem. Really, the entire Torah is made up of Hashem’s names (Ramban’s Introduction to Chumash)

6 Rav Moshe Shapira got this from Seder Olam Rabbah Chapter 30

7 It is also when the yetzer hara for idol worship ceased, leaving only a yetzer hara for heresy and lust, which were well-abused by the Greeks

8 Even though the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah was enacted after the cessation of prophecy, we can still say that it reflects the Divine Will. I’d say that this is so because the concept of Chanukah is alluded to in the Torah (see Ramban to Numbers 8:1). However, I believe Rav Moshe Shapira addressed this directly. Seder Olam Rabbah loc. cit. says that once there was a cessation to prophecy, go and listen to the Sages. Rav Moshe Shapira explained that this is because they still have some element of ruach hakodesh. Since the Sages were the ones to institute Chanukah, their ruach hakodesh can still be accessed through performing the mitzvah of lighting the menorah

9 Rav Moshe Shapira added that the same is so with the mitzvos of Pesach. Eating matzah and marror not only are fulfilling Hashem’s commands, they reveal the essence of the miracles of Pesach

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Rav Soloveitchik explains a difference between pirsumei Nissa of channuka and all other pirsumei nissas. He brings from the gemara shabbas 21b that there js shitta in the gemara who says that the time of lighting goes until the תרמודאי are absent from the street. Rashi explains that these people were not Jewish. From this gemara we see a concept of pirsumei nissa by non Jews. He explains that by chanuka it was the Yavanim trying to keep us from keeping the Torah and mitzvos ,so by us lighting the menorah we are creating a kiddush HaShem to show that we are loyal to the Torah. This is something to so the "Yavanim".By purim the pirsumei nissa is about the Jews bitachon(trust in HaShem) that they will be saved. Bitachon is a pirsumei nissa for Jews only.

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The pirsum ha'nes of Chanukah is similar to the actual nes of Chanukah. The pirsum ha'nes of Purim is similar to the actual nes of Purim.

On the original Chanukah the pure light of the menorah shone from the beis ha'mikdash, so too on Chanuka does the pure light of the menorah shine out from the Jewish home, symbolising the purity of the Jewish home that the Greeks sought to defile.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף כ"א עמוד ב'. תנו רבנן: מצות חנוכה נר איש וביתו.

In Shabbos 21b we have learnt: The rabbis learnt, the basic mitzva of Chanuka is one light for a man and his household

On the other hand, the actual nes that occurred on Purim was that the Jews feasted and celebrated, instead of being case into mourning and misery. Therefore we re-enact their joy on Purim.

https://he.wikisource.org/wiki/%D7%A7%D7%98%D7%92%D7%95%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%94:%D7%90%D7%A1%D7%AA%D7%A8_%D7%97_%D7%99%D7%96

וּבְכָל מְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה וּבְכָל עִיר וָעִיר מְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דְּבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ מַגִּיעַ שִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשׂוֹן לַיְּהוּדִים מִשְׁתֶּה וְיוֹם טוֹב

And in every province and city that the decree and the law of the king reached, there was merriment and rejoicing for the Jews, feasting and celebration.

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