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Tuesday, December 10, 2019 12 Kislev 5780





The Lessons from Chanuka



On the 25th of Kislev, (in the English, this year Sunday night Dec 22) we begin to celebrate the festival of Chanuka. Chanuka is one of the most beloved holidays among the Jewish people, yet few are aware of its inner meaning.
It is common knowledge that Chanuka commemorates the victory of the Jewish people over their Hellenistic oppressors and, in particular, the miracle that occurred in the Holy Temple: After the Greeks contaminated all the oil, a single cruse of uncontaminated olive oil was discovered, which in spite of its small size, miraculously produced enough oil to light the Menora for eight days, the amount of time needed to press and ship ritually pure oil to the Temple. But what is the deeper meaning of the war with the Hellenists and the miracle of the oil and what impact can it have on our lives today so many years later?
An in-depth evaluation of the events of Chanuka reveals that the war between the Jews and the Greeks was first and foremost a spiritual war . At odds were Torah and Greek philosophy - two entirely different conceptual schemes of human life. To fully understand the significance of the miracle of the oil, we have to see it in context of this battle of the spirit.
In Kabbala, oil symbolizes wisdom. The defilement of the oils by the Greeks represents the clouding of our original Jewish mode of thought by Greek philosophy, creating an unbridgeable gap to be opened between our intellect and our faith. The uncontaminated cruse of oil therefore represents a concentrate of pure Jewish thought that remained (and still remains) immune to the devastating influence of Greek philosophy. Just like the small quantity of oil in the cruse, this concentrate of Jewish thinking may seem at first small and inconsequential, but miraculously, it too can illuminate a great deal of human experience.
The sages explain that given the manner in which the Temple sanctuary was built, the Menora did not illuminate its inside, but rather most of its light was cast outside. In more spiritual language, they say that it is not G-d's sanctuary that needs light from the Menora, for G-d Himself is all light, rather it is the outside world that needs the light of the Menora. Thus, the Menora is the vessel that symbolizes the spreading of the word of God to even the farthest and darkest corners of humanity and human nature, while the oil that burns in it and emits the light symbolizes the type of wisdom that can be seen by everyone. In the time of the Macabbees, the oil that burned in the Menora was able to illuminate the world enough that there was no choice but to accept the presence of a ritually and theologically independent Jewish entity in the Land of Israel, an entity that survived for many years.
In the blessings on the Chanuka candles, we say: "for the miracles that you performed for our fathers, in those days - at this time." The message of celebrating Chanuka today is that what was true then is still true (and perhaps even more so) today. Though the success of the Macabbees led to the formation of an independent Jewish state in the Land of Israel, a state that remained intellectually and ritually unique in a sea of Hellenism and Greek philosophy, ultimately, from a secular perspective, it was the message of Greek culture that was triumphant on the global scale.
Still, the miracle of finding a cruse of pure, uncontaminated oil calls upon us today to search for the ancient Jewish wisdom that can shed Divine light and rectify the seemingly endless volumes of philosophy and science whose source lies in the ancient Greek tradition. This mysterious and pure flask of Jewish wisdom has the ability to reconnect humanity's intellect with its faith. When utilized correctly it sheds new light on every topic.


Look in the "Current Issue" of Reaching Out for more details and information.
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