Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 24 December 2016 / 24 Kislev 5777

Chanuka - Light and Darkness

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Chaim

Dear Rabbi,

We are told that the main miracle of Chanuka was that even though the one vile of pure oil that they found was enough only for one day, it miraculously lasted for eight days until they could produce new, pure oil for use in the Menora. The question is, why was a miracle necessary when the halacha permits using even contaminated oil for the sacred service when pure oil is not available?

Dear Chaim,

Perhaps the answer lies in what took place when G-d first created light. On the very first day of Creation the Torah tells us, “G-d saw the light was good, and G-d separated between the light and the darkness” (Gen. 1:4). The Midrash explains that prior to that Divinely ordered separation, light and darkness jointly served the world. Gd’s separation of the two created day and night. Rashi explains (ibid.) that since “G-d saw that the light was good”, it was not proper for light to be mixed together with the darkness. He therefore assigned one of them to the day and one to the night. Thus, from the beginning of time, light cannot coexist with darkness.

The Hellenists, whose reign is compared by the Midrash to the primeval darkness mentioned in the account of Creation, attempted to blend light with darkness. They did not destroy the Beit Hamikdash as did the Babylonians before them and the Romans after them; nor did they did perpetrate the genocide planned by Haman. Their sole aim was, as we say in our “Al Hanisim” prayer, to “cause us to forget our Torah and abandon our fulfillment of G-d’s commands” in order to accept their pagan, Hellenistic culture.

To accomplish this goal they selectively prohibited those mitzvot that principally set the Jew apart from them – Shabbat, circumcision and the Jewish calendar of months and holidays. They made breaches in the walls of the Beit Hamikdash and contaminated its contents. All this was done in order to have the darkness of their paganism function alongside the light of Judaism.

Once this darkness was removed with the triumph of the Jewish forces, it was understood that there was no room left for any darkness, even in the form of contaminated oil. It is for this reason that G-d performed the miracle for the pure oil to last until a new supply was available.

The message of this miracle was relevant not only in those days, but in our own times as well. We must be careful to prevent the forces of darkness that are so prevalent in the world – lack of belief in G-d, immorality and violence – from infringing upon the pure light of a Torah lifestyle.

In our kindling of the Chanuka lamps and in our daily lives we must uphold the Divine command “Let there be light”, and ensure that it remain unadulterated by darkness!

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