When the miracle of Chanukah is described in the Talmud (Shabbos 21b), the Sages clearly indicate that the Greeks intentionally defiled the oil in the Bais Hamikdash, rather than using or destroying it. What was their motive for rendering the oil impure?
As the Greeks expanded their empire, their goal was not to destroy the existing populations. Rather, the Greek goal was to Hellenize the conquered nations, assimilating them to Greek culture. As we say in VeAl HaNissim, the Greeks wanted us to “forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will” – to remove G-d from our learning and rituals. The Greeks wanted to relegate Torah and mitzvos to academia and culture, as opposed to an expression of G-d’s will and our connection to Him.
When the Greeks defiled the oil and made it impure, their goal was to erase G-dliness from the lights of the menorah. They had no opposition to the physical light of the menorah – actually, they WANTED it to remain a purely physical light, as opposed a light permeated with holiness and purity.
The Jews fought back against the removal of G-d from Judaism by fighting with mesiras nefesh, a tiny band of fighters against the largest and strongest army in the world. The Maccabees were willing to give up everything, including their lives, to keep G-d in the equation.
The one remaining pure bottle of oil, bearing the seal of the Kohen Gadol, is the quintessential symbol of mesiras nefesh. According to the Rambam (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 5:7), the Kohen Gadol could never leave Yerushalayim. The word Yerushalayim (ירושלים) is made up of two words – yirah (ירא) and shaleim (שלם) (together they mean “complete awe”). The Kohen Gadol, who never leaves Yerushalayim, never ceases to have this complete awe of G-d. Each of us, every single Jew, can achieve this same level of complete awe. Each of us has this single bottle of pure oil within us, waiting to be found. We may not discover it and connect to G-d on this level in our ordinary lives, but when we face a challenge, like the Maccabees, we hunt deep inside ourselves to find this pure, sealed bottle, the complete awe. It is when we discover and attain this level that we achieve complete power over even the biggest foe, transcending all earthly limitations.
The miracle of the one pure bottle of oil, which lasted for eight days and nights, symbolizes the Jews eternal connection to G-d, which can never be severed, no matter who or what the enemy. The lights of the Chanukah menorah remind us that the Torah and mitzvos connect us to G-d, they are not merely, G-d forbid, academic study or cultural rituals. By studying Torah and performing mitzvos, we connect directly to the Source of all life and blessing and help to usher in the time when G-d’s existence will be seen clearly by all who are on this earth, the Final Redemption with the coming of Moshiach bimheira v’yameinu.