December 5, 2019
7 Kislev 5780
As Chanukah approaches, my thoughts shift from the emptiness of Mars Chesvan (the previous month on the Hebrew calendar that contains no Jewish Holidays) to the light of Chanukah that illumines the darkness of the winter days.
On a sidenote, I should at least mention that the very first Thanksgiving, attended by the Pilgrims and Native Americans, was based upon the seven day holiday of Sukkot, otherwise known as the Feast of Tabernacles. So, in effect, Thanksgiving, which usually occurs in the “bitter” month of Mars Chesvan, may actually serve as a reminder of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot that was celebrated earlier in the Autumn. With that said, I inadvertently demonstrated the premise of this particular blogpost, the shifting of perspective that allows the mind to change it’s perception about something.
Historically, Chanukah commemorates the victory of the Macabbees, a small group of pious Jews, who defeated the invading Syrian army. Yet, the Sages deliberately emphasized the miracle of the oil, instead of the military might of the Macabbees. Apropos of reframing the emphasis of the holiday, the Sages brought forth this pasuk (verse) as a reminder of the help the Jewish people received from G-d, when defending themselves against an army much greater than them: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the L-RD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6, JPS 1917 Tanach).
The miracle of the oil, has to do with the pure olive oil that was used in the Temple to light the seven-candled menorah that rested in the sanctuary. After cleaning up the Temple, that had been ransacked by the Syrian army, only one cruze of this pure oil was found. Regular olive oil could not be used for such a holy purpose as lighting this menorah inside of the sanctuary. Because the cruze of oil was only enough for one day, there would not have been enough time to prepare more oil, to keep the menorah burning on successive days. Yet, a miracle occurred: the single cruze of oil lasted for eight days. That is the reason we light candles for eight days on Chanukah.
I can only imagine the shift in perspective held by my people, at the time, when everything looked bleak. The victory of the Macabees, the cleaning up of the Temple, and the miracle of the oil must have changed the general mood of Israel at the time from fear to joy. From darkness to light is the common motif: “For Thou dost light my lamp: the L-RD my G-d doth lighten my darkness” (Psalm 18:28, JPS 1917 Tanach).