For the week ending 12 December 2009 / 24 Kislev 5770

Light and Darkness

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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Chanukah is celebrated with the oil lamps or candles which Jews throughout the world light in remembrance of the miracle of the oil in the Beit Hamikdash that occurred more than two millennia ago. After miraculously overcoming the superior forces of their Hellenist oppressors our ancestors anxiously looked forward to once again lighting the sacred menorah. Not only had their enemies denied them the opportunity to do so during their evil reign but they also contaminated all the oil that they found. Miracle followed miracle as one flask of oil was found with the seal of the kohen gadol. It had just enough oil to light the menorah one day but it lasted for eight days until a new supply of pure oil was available.

Why, ask our commentaries, was a miracle necessary when the halacha permits using even contaminated oil for the sacred service if pure oil is not available?

Perhaps the answer lies in what took place when light was first created by G-d. 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" (Bereishet 1:4). The Midrash explains that prior to that Divinely ordered separation, light and darkness jointly served the world. G-d's separation of the two created day and night.

In his commentary Rashi writes that "G-d saw that the light was good" (ibid.) and that it was not fitting for it to be mixed together with the darkness and He therefore assigned one of them to the day and one to the night.

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, and they did not perpetrate the genocide planned by Haman. Their sole aim was, as we say in our “Al Hanissim” 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 breaks 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. Heaven therefore made a miracle for the pure oil that was found to last until a new supply was available.

The message of this miracle is that in our own days we must be careful to prevent the forces of darkness so prevalent in the world – lack of faith in G-d, immorality and violence – from infringing upon the pure light of a Torah lifestyle.

In our kindling of the Chanukah lamps and in our daily lives we must offer a proud response to the Divine command:

"Let there be light."

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