Chanukah – Why Oil?

chanuka night 5
Our rabbi, Rabbi Bassous, gave 5 reasons why the rabbis chose to celebrate the miracle of the oil on Chanukah. An alternative question might be: Why emphasize the oil instead of the military victory?

(My apologies if I restate any of his talk incorrectly).

  1. Humility: in crushing the olive to make the oil, we learn humility. We should learn to be humble in our lives.
  2. Permeation: Oil permeates the skin if we rub it like an ointment. Just as Joseph was involved in Egypt in a good way, so we Jews should be involved in the world around us.
  3. Water and oil separate: water does not mix with oil. We should not mix in and dissolve in greater society. Joseph was involved in Egypt, but he retained his Judaism.
  4. Oil floats to the top: if we are good, hardworking people, we can rise above in society.
  5. Light unto others: the lighted oil is symbolic of being a light unto others.

If you need further explanation or elaboration, feel free to ask the comments (especially if you don’t celebrate Chanukah or if you just don’t understand one part of what he said – I’m open to questions).

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14 thoughts on “Chanukah – Why Oil?

  • What a wonderful lesson. Thank you for sharing.

    You are so sweet to ask about my husband. He has finished radiation and is awaiting his PSA test this month.

    G-dwilling all will be well.

  • I don’t think Chazal chose to commemorate the miracle of the oil instead of the miraculous military victory. My understanding is that Chanukah celebrates both miracles. In fact, Al HaNissim is all about the military victory and doesn’t even mention the miracle of the oil!

  • Dear Leora,
    Thanks for the Oil /Hanukkah lesson, it was informative and really shone a light upon the underlaying ethics and morals of the celebration.
    I shall have to google AlHaNissim, I don’t remember which of the many wonder victories that is. There sure are lots of wonders and lots of victories in the story of the Jews.
    I always wonder, but keep forgetting, why there’s a nine armed Menorah for the Hanuka celebration.
    I am the happy owner of a seven armed Menorah myself. It is a mighty symbol and a beautiful piece of craft.

    • There are nine – one is called the Shamash, and that one lights the other eight, one for each night of Chanukah.

      The seven branched menorah was the one in the Temple that was destroyed.

      A good question you ask!

      The battle was against the Assyrian Greeks who wanted to Hellenize the Jews. Today there are no Assyrian Greeks, but there are still many Jews lighting the menorah.

      • The battle was against the Assyrian Greeks who wanted to Hellenize the Jews.

        Not exactly. (Don’t read the comments, just the article.) There are numerous stories made (or lessons learned) from the events of Hanukkah.

        One reason the rabbis of the Mishna chose to emphasize miracles over the military victory is that the Hasmoneans were not popular by the time of the Mishna. Firstly they took the kingship despite not being of the line of David. Secondly later members of the dynasty were the people who invited the Romans to help ‘stabilize’ Judea. Third and last the rabbis did not want to encourage another disastrous revolt against the Romans.

      • Good article, Larry. Love the way he repeats “Well, not exactly.” as a way to bind his essay.

        I skipped the comments. Sometimes I like comments, but often they give me a stomach ache.

      • Greenberg first posted that article in 1993. He’s occasionally tinkered with it. I think the old ending was better:

        If there is one, unchanging message associated with this minor holiday magnified by changing times, it can be found in the portion of the Prophets designated to be read for the sabbath of Hanukkah. It is Zechariah 4:1-7, with its penultimate verse:

        Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.


      • I finally did read the comments, and I thought some people misunderstood what is meant by “minor.” Minor doesn’t mean it has no mitzvot or that it isn’t to be celebrated; it’s just not on the same scale as Pesach and Yom Kippur.

        “Freedom is a gift from God, not men. ” – I guess he thought this might be a simplified version of what he originally said. Given that so many people take his words and misconstrue them…

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