Oils Well That Ends Well

by Rabbi David Orlofsky
Lessons Learned from Chanukah Oil
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Well. It's Chanuka again. The time of year when we gather together to light our little menorahs, eat latkes and jelly donuts dripping with oil and get presents. For most people the first two don't have too much meaning, but getting presents - now that's a religious experience. Because it has served as one of the most effective methods to stem the rising tide of assimilation. We tell our kids: "Be Jewish and you'll get presents for eight days."

And yet I can't help but feel that there must be more of a message for our lives to Chanuka. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying you shouldn't get me anything.

The Talmud asks the famous question "What is Chanuka?" It then goes on to explain the miraculous victory of a tenacious band of religious zealots over the overwhelming force of the Greek empire. The Jews then returned to the Temple and rededicated it, miraculously discovering one small bottle of pure oil with which to light the menorah in the Temple for one day. But the oil burned for eight days. And so, to celebrate the miracle we instituted the eight days of Chanuka. We light the menorah and eat food cooked in oil.

But the question is, what did we have against the Greeks in the first place? They wanted to bring us the light of Greek civilization and culture. Their drama, sports, education and philosophy. So what was so terrible about Plato? Well for one thing it's almost impossible to get out of the carpet, but more than that, we Jews had our own philosophy. We weren't a pagan people lucky to get someone to teach us how to throw a discus, we are a holy people reaching for spiritual heights through G-dliness. We want to bring the light of G-d into a world of darkness, and all the light of Greek civilization can't compete with that.

So we eat a lot of oil. Now some people think that's because we wanted to make sure we don't have great physiques like the Greeks, but actually it's because oil is like us Jews. It floats on top of everything else. It doesn't mix well. It burns brightly and can bring light into a world of darkness. Maybe the Greeks had a message of Western Civilization that was a step up if you were an Edomite, but for us Jews it was a step down to a world devoid of holiness and true meaning.

So every year we light those little candles and although they might not light up the world yet, they have the power to chase away some of the shadows. We Jews are a people with an outlook that spans thousands of years. Over the centuries the Greeks have moved on, but we Jews are still around bringing a message of transcendental spiritual fulfillment to a world in darkness.

Happy Chanuka!

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