Chanukah is unlike all the other holidays we celebrate. Usually, festivities center around a meal, a kiddush, Hamotzi and festive foods fulfilling our physical needs.
Chanukah is a unique holiday in that there is no specific meal. Instead, we gather around the glow of the candles to celebrate the miracle of the lamp oil, thereby fulfilling a spiritual hunger.
Amid the destruction of the Temple, only one jar of pure olive oil survived with the seal of the high priest still intact. That one jar contained enough oil to burn for only one day. Miraculously, it burned for eight days, just enough time to make new oil and bring it back to the temple in Jerusalem from Modi’in.
Was there no other substance that they could use? Was there no other oil?
Of course! There was still plenty of oil in the Temple.
The war on the Jewish people by the Ancient Greeks was not about ritualistic behavior. They had no problem if the Jewish people studied Torah or even lit the menorah.
The Greeks rejected the idea that we lit the menorah because G-d told us to do it.
The study of Torah as a subject was fine with them. In fact, the Ancient Greeks appreciated the intellectual part of the Torah. But they sought to discredit the idea that the Torah was divine, holy, unique.
The Greeks loved the use of the mind, but could not comprehend how an intelligent people, famous for critical thinking, could follow the commandments of G-d blindly. How can you circumcise your sons? How can you keep the Shabbat? And how can you keep kosher?
They did not pour out the oil they found in the Holy Temple. They simply broke the seal of the high priest to emphasize that there is no need to follow the Torah’s instructions blindly.
This is why we celebrate Chanukah with the lighting of the menorah.
Oil, a liquid that, when mixed with other liquids, separates into a unique layer, symbolizes that Judaism, when mixed with other ideas, separates into a unique idea — we fulfill G-d’s commandments simply because he asked us to do it.
When we fulfill the commandments, we elevate ourselves, our family, our community — connecting to the Almighty on both the deeper and the lofty levels, as oil deeply dispersed in water collects to form a lofty layer.
Perhaps this is why Chanukah is the most widely celebrated holiday among Jews. We all know, deep down, we have a connection to G-d on high. Though dispersed as fine droplets of oil, we are still the children of Hashem. Simply by the study and fulfillment of Torah as he asked of us, we, below, are buoyed toward the infinite above.
Chanukah is a lesson for us today. Although we tend to see the world in terms of rights and freedoms, Judaism teaches us that, in addition to our vital rights and freedoms, there is also purpose and destiny.
While the laws of the land protect human dignity, the laws of the Torah enhance human destiny. As the Chashmonaim fought to protect Judaism, today’s Jews display the menorah publicly to enhance our connection to the divine on High.
As the Chashmonaim re-lit the seven-branched menorah of the Temple representing the natural order of things, we light the eight-branched menorah representing the super-rational order of things, feeding our spiritual hunger.
The name of this week’s portion, Mikeitz, indicates the end — the end of time and the beginning of time; the end of days of exile and the beginning days of the redemption, when physical hungers and spiritual hungers will be satiated with the coming of Moshiach. JN
Rabbi Mendy Deitsch is director of the Chabad of the East Valley.