Not Enough Oil

The miracle of Chanukah involved both a military victory against a superpower and a miracle of one jug of oil.

The halachah requires that oil used in the Temple must be spiritually and ritually pure olive oil. During the period when the Syrian-Greeks occupied the Holy City and the Temple, they intentionally defiled the pure oil in order to prevent the Jewish people from performing their service to Hashem in the way prescribed by the Torah. After a difficult war, the Temple was recaptured, and the Chashmona’im family of Kohanim cleaned up the Temple environs and rededicated the Temple. The lone flask of oil, which was enough for one day, lasted eight days, attesting to the miraculous providence Hashem provides to His chosen people. One might be able to explain a military victory, even one of the weak and the few over the many and the mighty. However, oil is oil and one day’s supply cannot burn for eight days.

One might ask, “Why a miracle with oil? Why a miracle of light?”

We can learn a lot from the nature of oil. It is derived through a process of pressing olives, while the wicks used to light the oil are made by beating flax. The light that is produced represents the wisdom of the Torah. Success in Torah does not come easily. It requires a struggle against one’s baser, pleasure-seeking nature. To create “light” one needs to “crush” and “beat” the baser instincts.

The day the Chashmona’im discovered the oil they faced a dilemma. They wanted to resume perfect service to G-d and yet they did not have enough oil to complete the task at hand. Still, they poured in the oil and lit the wicks. Miraculously, Hashem provided the energy to keep the flames burning for eight days until additional oil could be manufactured and delivered. When faced with a shortage of pure oil they could have thrown up their hands in frustration and waited for the arrival of a new supply. Instead, they did what they could under the circumstances and Hashem did the rest.

Many people feel that they don’t have enough of what it takes to succeed in the spiritual realm of Torah and mitzvot. They see libraries full of books packed with knowledge that cannot be learned in a lifetime. They see others who are quicker than they are in grasping difficult religious concepts. They see others who have the background from childhood that they feel they lack. “How can I ever do it?” they ask.

The trick is to try. The Chanukah miracle came about through the blind faith and devotion of a group of people who did not stop to ask how. They didn’t measure the potential for victory in a logical or sensible way. They started the fight and prayed to G-d that they would be successful.

Every year, as we commemorate the victory of the weak over the strong and the few over the many, we must integrate into our psyches the ability to discard logic and start to tackle a task that seems insurmountable. If we do, G-d will do the rest as He did time and time again in our history. It only takes commitment to attempt the impossible, but it is that effort that creates Heavenly assistance and success.

Shabbat Chanukah shalom!