Fascinating And Intriguing Insights On Chanukah, Its Miracles, And Its History

By Aryeh Pinchas Strickoff

Part 2

How is it that the Chashmonaim found a flask of oil sealed with the seal of a Kohen Gadol when it was not the practice of the Kohen Gadol to seal the flasks of olive oil used to light the Menorah? This is surprising, as there was never a requirement that the oil flasks be sealed, nor was there a custom to do so. Furthermore, there was no requirement that the Kohen Gadol have anything to do with the production of the oil, as the regular kohanim were generally assigned to this task. How was it, then, that a flask of oil sealed by a Kohen Gadol turned up in the Beis HaMikdash? The Shabbos Shel Mi offers a fascinating answer. The Torah says (see Sh’mos 27:20) that the oil used to light the Menorah had to be extra-pure olive oil, but this requirement did not extend to other services in the Beis HaMikdash where oil was needed, such as the Korban Minchah, a meal offering (see Rashi, Sh’mos 27:20). Amongst these other services, the Kohen Gadol was required to bring a special personal Korban Minchah known as the chavitei Kohen Gadol each day (see Vayikra 6:12—16; see also Menachos 76a). He would prepare the korban entirely on his own and offer half in the morning and half in the afternoon. One of the ingredients of this korban was olive oil, but the Torah does not require that the oil used in this korban be extra-pure olive oil (see Vayikra 6:14 and Rashi, Sh’mos 27:20). Nevertheless, because the mitzvah was so dear to one particular Kohen Gadol, he made sure to always use the highest-quality and purest olive oil for his korban. To that end, he even made special flasks of this oil, which he sealed with his personal seal in order to differentiate between this special oil and the regular variety used for everything else. This was the oil that the Chashmonaim found, and this explains why it was sealed with the seal of the Kohen Gadol. (Sefer Shabbos Shel Mi, Shabbos 21a—b)

Why did the miracle occur specifically through olive oil? 1. The Yevanim wanted to destroy chochmas haTorah (Torah wisdom), and exclusively establish secular knowledge and physical strength and prowess as the sole objectives of man’s pursuits. Since olive oil is a remez (symbol) for chochmas haTorah (see Menachos 85b), the miracle occurred through olive oil to demonstrate and publicize the victory of those who upheld the Torah over those whose aim was to trample it. 2. When pouring olive oil out of a vessel, a residue always remains behind. Olive oil will leave a residue in any place it has been. By bringing about the miracle through olive oil, Hashem was telling us that although the period of prophets and open miracles had long since ceased, the Shechinah (Hashem’s Divine Presence) has never left the Jewish people. Just as there is a residue left behind when oil is removed, so too did the Shechinah remain with Klal Yisrael after prophecy was removed. Thus, the miracle occurred through olive oil to demonstrate that Hashem is always watching out for us, even today, when it is not as apparent as it was during the days of open miracles. 3. Since the Yevanim sought to cause the Jews לְהַשְׁכִּיחָם תּוֹרָתֶךְ–to forget Your Torah (Al HaNissim), the miracle came about through olive oil, because, as the Gemara (Horayos 13a) says, eating olive oil strengthens memory. (Bnei Yissaschar)

Why did the miracle occur specifically through olive-oil lights? The Yevanim wanted to discontinue the mesorah (Jewish tradition), which had been passed down from generation to generation since Sinai (see Avos 1:1), but Hashem brought about a נֵס, a miracle, and thwarted their plans. The miracle came to publicize and demonstrate that the Yevanim did not succeed in their scheme, despite their tremendous efforts, and that the mesorah endured. The miracle occurred specifically through oil, because an oil light can demonstrate this idea most effectively. An oil light is made up of three parts: (1) the oil, (2) the wick, and (3) the flame. The oil is drawn into the wick and then into the flame, creating a hemshech, a continuation. For a chain to endure, it must have at least three links. The fact that the miracle occurred through oil lights, which function through the triple-link process of oil to wick to flame, publicly demonstrated that the chain–the mesorah since Sinai–yet persisted. The Yevanim wanted to wipe out our identity and distinctiveness, which we maintained through our mesorah. Yet the miracle occurred, and we light candles today, in full view of the nations of the world, to show that we are still here. The chain is still unbroken! This is why pirsumei nisa (publicizing the miracle) is so central to the mitzvah, and why the miracle occurred specifically through oil lights. (HaRav Noach Isaac Oelbaum)

Is Chanukah actually listed in the Torah, in its chronological schedule of the holidays of the year? In Parashas Emor, the Torah recounts all the holidays of the year in the order of their annual occurrence. It first discusses Shabbos, which occurs every week (see Vayikra 23:1—3), followed by Pesach, Shavuos, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and finally Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres (ibid. 4—44). Chronologically, Chanukah is the holiday immediately after Sukkos. In the very next pasuk, after wrapping up the discussion of the holidays, the Torah immediately states, “Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Command the children of Israel that they should take to you extra-pure olive oil, pressed for kindling, to light a continual lamp [i.e., the Menorah]” (ibid. 24:1—2). On the surface, these pesukim are discussing the commandment regarding the daily service of lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash. However, the placement of the details of the Menorah service immediately after the discussion of Sukkos, which could have been placed anywhere else in the Torah, is eye-opening. The Torah is hinting here that there will one day be a holiday revolving around the Menorah that will fall out chronologically after Sukkos. Because the Torah discussion moves directly from Sukkos to the Menorah, Chanukah is essentially listed among the מֹעֲדֵי ה׳, the holidays of Hashem, even though Chanukah would not actually occur until over a thousand years after the giving of the Torah. It is evident that Chanukah is intended to be an addendum to the yamim tovim, since the gematria of the phrase אוֹר ה׳, the light of Hashem (which is Chanukah), equals the gematria of the word רֶגֶל, as in שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִים, the collective name for the three holidays of Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos. Further strengthening the allusion to Chanukah is the fact that the phrase introducing the command of lighting the Menorah, צַו אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, equals the gematria of the phrase בִּימֵי מַתִּתְיָהוּ בֶּן יוֹחָנָן–“In the days of Matisyahu the son of Yochanan.” This hints that the holiday of the Menorah would come about in the days of Matisyahu, who would initiate the fight against Yavan, ultimately culminating in Chanukah! (Bnei


Why are certain types of wicks and oils that may not be used for Shabbos candles acceptable for Chanukah candles? The rule that oils and wicks unacceptable for Shabbos candles are nonetheless permitted for Chanukah candles doesn’t apply only to the physical aspect of the נֵר. A נֵר represents the נֶּפֶשׁ (soul), as it says in Mishlei (20:27), נֵר ה׳ נִשְׁמַת אָדָם–The soul of man is the candle of Hashem, and we similarly see that the word נֶּפֶשׁ serves as an acronym for נֵר פְּתִיל שֶׁמֶן–flame, wick, oil, the three components of a candle. There are Jews whose souls are close to Hashem and burn as purely as the oils and wicks of the Shabbos candles, and then there are other Jews who are more distant and may be compared to the less pure oils that may not be used on Shabbos. The message of this halachah is that for even those souls that have developed a spiritual dullness and lack of inner fire, such that even the koach (power) and kedushah (holiness) of Shabbos cannot kindle them, they can still be ignited by Chanukah. Chanukah has the power to ignite the enduring spiritual embers of every Jewish soul. We learn from this that for every type of Jew, whether distant from or close to Hashem, Chanukah presents an extraordinary opportunity to find new meaning inside ourselves that perhaps we cannot find during the rest of the year. (Chiddushei HaRim)

How does the Torah hint to the fact that the halachah follows Beis Hillel regarding Chanukah candles? Beis Hillel holds that one candle is lit on the first night of Chanukah, and an additional candle is added each subsequent night (see Shabbos 21b). In contrast, Beis Shammai holds that eight candles are lit on the first night, and one candle is removed each subsequent night (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 671:2). In the Torah’s discussion of the Menorah in Parashas Emor (Vayikra 24:1—4), which contains many hints to the Chanukah miracle of the oil, we find a reference indicating that the halachah follows Beis Hillel with regard to the procedure for lighting the Chanukah menorah. The second passuk (ibid., 2) in this discussion ends by instructing לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִיד–to light a continual lamp, using the singular form of the word נֵר, lamp, and then just two pesukim later (ibid., 4), the Torah says, עַל הַמְּנֹרָה הַטְּהֹרָה יַעֲרֹךְ אֶת-הַנֵּרוֹת – On the pure Menorah shall he arrange the lamps, using the plural נֵּרוֹת, lamps. The fact the Torah first uses the singular and then moves to the plural hints that we light Chanukah candles by beginning with a single candle (on the first night) and then continue on toward the plural, by adding additional lights each subsequent night, in accordance with the opinion of Beis Hillel. There is a similar singular/plural dichotomy in the other two references to lighting the Menorah in the Torah. However, unlike Parashas Emor, which uses both the singular and then the plural forms one after the other, Parashas Tetzaveh uses the singular form exclusively, saying, לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִיד–to light a continual lamp (Shemos 27:20), and Parashas Behaaloscha uses the plural form exclusively, saying, בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ אֶת-הַנֵּרֹת–when you light the lamps (Bamidbar 8:2). Since Parashas Tetzaveh comes chronologically before Parashas Behaaloscha, we see that the Torah is also hinting from these two parashiyos that the halachah follows Beis Hillel, in that we start with one “singular” candle on the first night, and move to additional “plural” candles on subsequent nights. (Peirush HaRokeach)

Why should we make sure to devote extra time to learning Torah on Chanukah? The Beis Yisrael explains that Chanukah is a mesugal time to strengthen ourselves in Torah, because that is what the Jews did during the events of Chanukah when the Yevanim sought to make them forget the Torah. As a result of their dedication, Hashem helped them, and the Torah was saved from being forgotten. Consequently, Chanukah is a time to accept upon ourselves the yoke of Torah and dedicate ourselves to it. As was the case with the Jews during Chanukah, our dedication will surely impress Hashem and lead to His further strengthening us in our service of Him and the fulfillment of mitzvos. As it says in the Gemara (Yoma 38b), הַבָּא לִטַּהֵר מְסַיְּיעִין אוֹתוֹ–One who comes to purify himself is assisted [from Heaven]. Moreover, it says in Mishlei (6:23), ×›Ö¼Ö´×™ נֵר מִצְוָה וְתוֹרָה אוֹר–For a candle is a mitzvah and Torah is light, which the Beis Yisrael explains to mean: ×›Ö¼Ö´×™ נֵר מִצְוָה–Through the mitzvah of the candles (i.e., Chanukah), תוֹרָה אוֹר–comes the light of Torah! v

Excerpted from the new sefer Inside Chanukah (published by Feldheim). With haskamos from Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlita, Rav Shlomo Eliyahu Miller, shlita, Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum, shlita, and Rav Zev Leff, shlita, Inside Chanukah explores every aspect of Chanukah–the miracles, mitzvos, minhagim, and history–in a collection of over 200 fascinating divrei Torah in a short, easy-to-read format. Aryeh Pinchas Strickoff is also the author of the acclaimed sefer Inside Purim, published in 2009. He can be reached at aps1216@yahoo.com.

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