Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Vayaishev/Chanukah) See the Light!
A Jewish actress recently made headlines when she told
Jimmy Fallon, the host of "The Tonight Show," that she would
for the first time be decorating her home with a Christmas tree,
thus fulfilling "every Jew's secret wish."
Okay... I guess she assumed that you and I have a "secret wish to light up a tree." Truth be told, I never had such a wish, nor do I suppose the vast majority of Jews have such a secret wish. But when it comes to secret wishes I can only speak for myself.
Surveys say that Chanukah is the most celebrated Jewish holiday. It is observed by the full gamut of Jews, both those affiliated and non-affiliated. It is no secret that we as Jews both enjoy and are deeply committed to our own sacred observances.
Why are we so drawn to lighting the Menorah and so excited during the eight days of Chanukah?
The Chanukah story actually captures the tenacity of our people, an essential ingredient of who we are. When the Greeks captured our Temple in Jerusalem transforming it into a house of pagan worship, a few Macabees were determined to recapture it. The Macabees' resolve to battle the mighty Greek army defied all odds. Their physical weapons and manpower were surely lacking, but their commitment to G-d and their reliance on His assistance was unwavering, and miraculously they were victorious and regained the Temple.
When the Jews entered the Temple they saw the utter spiritual destruction the Greeks wrought on our Temple. Although the Greeks didn't physically destroy the Temple, for it was too beautiful a structure to demolish, they did have issue with its spiritual content. The Talmud describes that the Macabees saw that the Greeks were resolute on defiling and contaminating all the olive oil that was used to fuel the seven branched golden Menorah in the Temple.
The Greeks knew that the Menorah in the Temple symbolized the light of our eternal Torah and when it was lit with the special olive oil produced with ritual purity it connected every Jew to the Torah. Only a Jew could perceive the spiritual rays produced by the Menorah in the Temple. This spiritual effect was similar to what each of us experiences when we light the Shabbos candles in our homes to usher in and set the tone of the holy Shabbos.
Phenomenally, if one were to light those same candles even in a beautiful setting, they would not be a match for the candles that are lit for Shabbos with G-d's name recited over them in the blessing. The Shabbos candles produce a spiritual aura which only we, who have been commanded to observe the Shabbos, can perceive and see. The Greeks, aware of how we are connected to the Menorah's aura and knowing that it could only produce such an aura when it was kindled with the purest ritually produced olive oil, worked on contaminating the entire inventory of suitable oil. In fact, when the Macabees entered the Temple, their main target was finding pure oil.
At first it seemed like a futile effort, however, when their Jewish perseverance kicked in, they finally found and unearthed a flask of pure oil that had been buried!
They lit the Menorah that evening with the contents of this pure oil, although it was only enough to fuel one night. I suppose they assumed that if G-d was behind them in their victory over the Greeks, G-d would be there to find suitable oil as well; and that's what happened! Over the next seven days G-d miraculously provided them with suitable oil until they were able to obtain additional pure oil.
The Jews took notice of the miracle as it occurred each day. However, the Talmud tells us that it wasn't until the following year that our Sages introduced the Holiday of Chanukah along with all it laws, blessings, prayers of thanks, time frame for lighting the candles, placement of the Menorah and the amount of candles to be lit each night.
Our Chanukah Menorah, in a certain way, is an extension and symbol of the kindling of the Menorah in the Temple. Yes, the Menorah in the Temple had seven branches and ours has eight/nine, but both Menorahs represent a special spiritual energy; the Menorah in the Temple on its level and our Chanukah Menorah on our level.
When kindling the Menorah we recite three blessings on the first night of Chanukah and two blessings on the subsequent nights. The Menorah flames are thus transformed into holy lights that only our eyes can perceive and they connect spiritually to our soul!
This is the underlying reason we are all drawn to the Holiday of Chanukah, for it demonstrates that we are connected, excited and inspired with our exclusive traditions that define us!
Wishing you a most enjoyable & uplifting Shabbos
Rabbi Dovid Saks