The Chanuka lights symbolically represent the triumph of light over darkness. This is the motif of Joseph: “He sets limits to darkness”. The Jewish calendar is set up so that the Sedra of Miketz is always read on Chanuka, when the nights start to get longer and the days shorter. The connection here between the festival and the cycle of nature makes us aware of the profound harmony between the laws governing the destiny of the Jewish people and those establishing the Divine order of creation.
The Greek empire which sought to assimilate the Jews at the time of Chanuka is compared to darkness. The Greeks were famous for their culture. They wanted to flood us with their theatres, their architecture and their Olympics. But look closely – how do we watch a play in the theatre? We sit in the dark. It’s the same with the cinema or the disco; they’re all based on being in a dark atmosphere. But the Greeks (or their modern equivalent) will never have power over Jacob, who is compared to fire.
Besides being compared to darkness, Greece is compared to the rabbit. Why? Because the rabbit has a symbol of kashrut in its throat. This shows us that the Greek culture was merely external. One can have the ‘gift of the gab’, but it takes more than that to make a true lasting impression. The people of Israel, on the other hand, are based on internal values. Rav Yoel Schwartz of Dvar Yerushalayim points out an interesting comparison. He says that whereas the Jews are called “The People of the Book”, the rest of the world is “The People of the Newspaper”. What do we do after we finish reading a newspaper? We throw it away. A paper is good only for one day. A book, on the other hand, is kept on a shelf and re-read. This is the difference between the Jews and the rest of the world. Our message is everlasting, not just for the present.
After Jacob and his family had crossed the river Jabok, Jacob returned alone to see if he had forgotten anything. He found that he had left some small containers of oil. Why did he bother to risk his life (he was by himself) for such seemingly insignificant pots of oil? We are told that a tzaddik values the smallest of his possessions and would not let anything go to waste, as each of his belongings has been acquired honestly. There is an opinion that these containers were the pots of oil that lasted for eight days, that comprised the miracle of Chanuka in the Temple.
What significance is olive oil to the Jewish people, apart from Chanuka and for tasting great on Israeli salad? Rabbenu Bechaye writes that it says in Proverbs: “Oil and incense gladden the heart, and so too the sweetness of a friend’s wise counsel”. This verse comes to teach how to behave towards the poor amongst us. Food is likened to oil and incense to show us that we should honour the poor person by serving him delicacies in order to ‘gladden his heart’. The words ‘sweetness of a friend’ means that we should speak sweetly to a pauper, just as if he were a close friend [this of course also applies to anyone less fortunate than ourselves]. We should speak sincerely, not like some people, who with cordial phrases invite the poor to come and eat, but do not really mean it.
The oil that was used for the menorah was the finest olive oil, as opposed to inferior oils such as sesame or nut oil. Only the first pressing was used – the remainder was used for the mincha sacrifice. Regarding this, the Midrash says that the oil of the Temple and its fragrant incense bring as much joy to G-d as the creation of the world did. G-d created man after everything else, for man was the most important of creations. Similarly, G-d commanded the Kohen Gadol to light the menorah and burn the incense after the construction of the Mishkan, for these duties were the most important of all. Think about that – a simple offering can equal the creation charter. Boy, did we do something right!
The commentary Tzror Hamor writes that the Jews are like olive oil. The Torah which they learn illuminates their way like the light of burning oil. The verse says that the Menorah should be lit “to you” to show that G-d says, “I have no need for light. There is sufficient light in heaven”. This obviously means that the light is meant for our benefit, and not His.
This can be explained by the following example: A person leads the way for a blind man, and tells him, “Light a candle for me.” The blind man retorts, “I took you to light my way and lead me on the right path, and YOU want ME to light a candle?!” The man answers him, “I want you to light the candle so that you can do something for me, too.”
G-d’s people are like the blind man walking in the dark, with G-d lighting their way. He tells them to light a candle so that they will do something to serve Him, and as a result they will be found worthy of receiving many blessings.
A Lichtige Chanuka