Chanukah, A Time of Inspiration
By Avi Lazerson
Each year as we light the Chanukah candles, we try to draw in some inspiration for our lives. Chanukah certainly is rich in inspirational material.
The whole concept of what is the essence of Chanukah is discussed in the Talmud. "What is Chanukah?" the Talmud asks, and Rashi, the chief commentator explains that the Talmud wants to know on what miracle was the holiday of Chanukah based.
The Talmud continues and answers: "On the twenty fifth of Kislev, for eight days (we celebrate Chanukah) we do not make eulogies or engage in fasting for when the Greeks entered the Holy Temple, they defiled all of the oils in then Temple (used to light the menorah). When the Hasmonians over threw them, they searched and only found one flask of oil that had the seal of the high priest. This oil should have only lasted one day, yet a miracle occurred and it lasted for eight days. The next year it was celebrated with festivity by singing praises to G-d and thanking Him."
It is very interesting to note that the question of the Talmud, as understood by Rashi, is not what is Chanukah, but rather on what miracle is Chanukah based. This means that there were more miracles than the oil lasting eight nights. What was that other miracle? That was the miracle of a small group of untrained people successfully overthrowing the world's most powerful army.
Certainly, one could say that it wasn't a miracle, but rather Mattisyahu and his sons used brilliant military tactics, knowledge of natural terrain, support from the indigenous population to successfully hide from the enemy. This may be true, but still, the fact that they, an untrained group, took up arms and successfully uprooted not just the evil Greeks from our land, but also re-established the proper service in the Holy Temple and removed idolatry from amongst our people. This was accomplished only with the aid of heaven.
Yet, the miracle of the oil, was the point on which the holiday was based.
We must consider: This miracle was totally unnecessary. The Rabbis taught us that impure oil could have been used in the service of the Temple until pure oil could be manufactured. This being so, the miracle of the oil, was not necessary!
The miracle of the war was certainly necessary, with out it; the Hasmoniam would never have prevailed. But the oil, for what did we need it?
The truth of the matter, we could ask the same of Mattisyahu. He started the rebellion. There were other leaders, perhaps wiser, perhaps more religious, why did they not start a rebellion? Yet Mattisyahu, when he saw the Greeks come into his village and begin to force idolatry on his villagers felt the zeal to defend the honor of G-d by attacking the Greeks on the spot. He did not do this for his own desires to enjoy his personal religious life and this idolatry represented an infringement on his personal life. He did it only for the honor of G-d.
In a very similar manner, we find King David. Samuel was told by G-d to go and anoint the son of Jesse to become the next king of Israel. After looking at each of Jesse's strong and intelligent sons and wanting to anoint them, G-d told him that each of these were not the correct choice. Finally, Jesse brought out little David, the son given the menial task of watching the sheep.
Samuel did not want to anoint him, because he did not see a figure worthy to be a king. G-d spoke to Samuel and told him that He sees the heart of each person, but man sees only the externalities. David was anointed, and then, instead of going on from that moment to be the king of Israel, he went back to his shepherding.
It was only when the Israelites were pitched in battle with the Philistines, that David left his sheep and came to visit his brothers. Shocked by Goliath's curses to G-d, and by seeing the fright that the Jews had from Goliath, David decided to take up Goliath's challenge to battle.
Let us realize that the odds certainly were not in David's side. He was a sheepherder; Goliath was a trained soldier skilled in killing men. Yet David could not sit idly by and let Goliath blaspheme the name of G-d. He prayed to G-d that He should help him against this giant. The rest is common history. With a small stone to Goliath's head, he fell a giant warrior and saved the Jews from the vicious army of the Philistines.
What we see in common here between David and Mattisyahu is the dimension of totally giving oneself over to G-d, until the point of being willing to giving up one's life for the sake of G-d. With this in mind, we can understand that it was G-d who rewarded Mattisyahu in the same manner that he rewarded David - with success in his war effort.
Therefore the question of the Talmud remains quite clear: on what miracle was Chanukah founded? The answer now is most strange: on the oil! It should have been on the war!
But the miracle of the oil is not a small miracle; it comes on the heels of the frantic search for the pure oil. Sure, they could have used impure oil, but since their desires for re-instating the holy Temple were with pure motives, they were not satisfied to take the easy way and use the impure oil. They were motivated by pure motives for the sake of G-d's glory, so G-d did a small miracle for them. He allowed them to find a small flask of oil and to prove that this was a miracle, He made it to burn for eight days.
Now we all would like to be great like David and Mattisyahu. But our problem is that as long as we want to be great like them, we are not sincerely serving G-d's interests, we are serving our own. If we see some one who is the enemy of G-d, we can't just go and kill them, because we believe we are correct. Remember that we do not have purity of motives.
However, each of us has the ability to strive to do our service to G-d in the most pure manner. We do not have to settle for second rate. We must strive to attain pure service to G-d in prayer and in mitzvoth.
This is the message that we can take in from the miracle of the oil. That a pure desire on our part will be met by a heaven sent help to enable us to overcome our daily obstacles. Let us take that message from Chanukah with us in our every day lives.
from the December 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine