From Keeping in Touch Vol. 1
by Rabbi Eli Touger
During their occupation of the Holy Land, the Greeks entered the Temple and defiled all the vessels of olive oil they found. After their defeat, the Maccabees were able to find only one cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest intact. Though it contained enough oil for only one day, the rekindled menorah burned miraculously for eight days, enough time for new oil to be prepared.
The Greeks’ defiling of the oil was obviously intentional and systematic; they neither used it nor destroyed it. What did they gain by defiling it?
This question can be answered by analyzing the nature of the conflict between the Greeks and the Jews. While building their empire, the Greeks did not usually attempt to eradicate indigenous populations. Instead, their goal was to Hellenize and assimilate them into their culture. This was their policy when they imposed their rule over Eretz Yisrael.
The Greeks appreciated the wisdom and beauty of the Torah. What they opposed was the concept of Torah as Gdly revelation. They would have liked the Jewish people to study Torah in the same way they would have
studied human wisdom, without thinking of its Gdliness that transcends the bounds of intellect.
Likewise, the Greeks did not object to the fulfillment of the commandments per se, recognizing that every culture, including their own, has rituals. Their antagonism was aroused by the idea that mitzvos are a unique means of connecting to Gd which take us beyond human limits.
In light of this, we can understand why the Greeks were so intent on defiling the oil. They wanted the Menorah to be lit with impure oil so that its light, symbolic of the light of Torah, would shine forth not in its pristine
purity, but with a human, Greek touch.
The Jews responded to this challenge with self-sacrifice that leaps beyond the limits of reason. Though they were pitted against the world’s strongest military power, they were determined to fight, and even to surrender their lives, to maintain the spiritual purity of their heritage.
The self-sacrifice which they displayed is symbolized by the one cruse of oil which still bore the seal of the High Priest.
Every individual has his “one cruse of oil,” begging to be discovered. A person may not uncover this internal connection to Gd in the ordinary circumstances of his life. But when challenged, as in the case of the Maccabees, this inner connection will surface. And when this Divine bond comes to the fore, “[Gd will] deliver the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few,” for nothing can withstand its power.
In their struggle against the Greeks, the Maccabees tapped this resource – this single cruse of oil, revealing a level of soul that transcended their usual limits. In response, Gd revealed miracles that transcended the natural limits of this world. The Chanukah miracle which followed serves as an eternal testimony to the essential connection to Gd that the Greeks sought to sever.
In our day as well, the Chanukah lights remind us that through an appreciation of the infinite Gdly, dimension of the Torah and its commandments, we can kindle the potential for light we all possess within our souls.
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