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What is Chanukah? ... When the royal Hasmonean family overpowered and was victorious over [the Greeks], they searched and found only a single cruse of pure oil... enough to light the menorah for a single day.

A miracle occurred, and they lit the menorah with this oil for eight days.

On the following year, they established these [eight days] as days of festivity and praise and thanksgiving to G‑d.

Talmud, Shabbat 21b

Many miracles, great and small, accompanied the liberation of Israel from Hellenic dominance and the reclaiming of the Holy Temple as the lighthouse of G‑d. But there is one particular miracle, the Talmud is saying, that is the sum and substance of Chanukah: the miracle of the small cruse of pure oil that burned for eight days.

The challenge faced by the Jewish people at that time was unlike any that had confronted them before. Hellenism, a noxious blend of hedonism and philosophy, could not be resisted by the conventional tools of Jewish learning and tradition. Only the cruse of pure oil-the supra-rational, supra-egotistical essence of the Jewish soul, from which stems the Jews intrinsic self-sacrificial loyalty to G‑d could illuminate the way out of the mudswamps of Hella. Only by evoking this inner reserve of incontaminable oil were we able to banish the pagan invader from G‑d's home and rekindle the torch of Israel as a light unto the nations.

But this was oil sufficient for only a single day. By nature, man's highest powers flare brightly and fleetingly, soon receding to the supra-conscious, supra-behavioral place from which they have come. When a person's deepest self is challenged, the essential oil of his soul is stimulated, and no force on earth can still its flame; but then the moment passes, the cataclysmic levels off into the routine, and the person is left with his ordinary, mortal self.

The miracle of Chanukah was that they lit the menorah with this oil for eight days—that the flame of selfless sacrifice blazed beyond a moment of truth, beyond a day of reckoning. That the small pure cruse of oil burned beyond its one-day lifespan for an additional week, illuminating the seven chambers of the soul (Kabbalistic teaching enumerates seven middot or basic character traits—love, restraint, harmony, ambition, devotion, bonding and receptiveness—from which stem all feelings and motivations of the heart). This was no mere flash of light in a sea of darkness, but a flame destined to shed purity and light for all generations, under all conditions.

Thus the Talmud relates that it was only on the following year that these eight days were established as the festival of Chanukah. A year is a microcosm of time, embodying all of times seasons and transmutations. So it was only on the following year, after it had weathered all fluctuations of the annual cycle, that the victory of Chanukah could be installed as a permanent fixture in our lives.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
Republished with the permission of If you wish to republish this article in a periodical, book, or website, please email
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Shaul Wolf December 31, 2014

Re: In the Temple, only the best of materials were used for sacrifices and services. The city of Tekoa was in the land of the tribe of Asher, who was promised to have high quality oil come from his region. They would therefore take oil from Tekoa specifically for the Menorah. Reply

Anonymous December 23, 2014

That begs another question, why did the oil have to come from Tekoa? Was there a problem with the olives around Jerusalem? Reply

Shaul Wolf December 22, 2014

Re: This question is discussed by the commentaries on the Talmud, and two answers are given:

1) The oil was taken from olives that grew in a certain city, Tekoa, which was a four day distance from Jerusalem. Until they travelled there, prepared oil, and returned, it was eight days later.

2) Being that the Jews had not had access to the Temple for a long time, and they had been involved in war, they were all ritually impure. The purification process takes seven days, and only following that process were they fit to prepare pure oil for the menorah. Reply

Anonymous December 19, 2014

Why was the oil so difficult to come by when there are olive groves all around?
Is there a special purification that the oil must go through in order to be acceptable for purifying the temple? Reply

John Toronto November 27, 2013

Hanukkah Blessings ... May the Lord bless all of our Jewish brothers and sisters this Hanukkah Season. Reply

? CA December 4, 2012

what is the name of the miracle Reply

michael k red bank, nj December 5, 2010

awesome stuf awesome & enlightening....this is a great site for all to learn from..... Reply

Pieter Berrangé Bethal, South Africa December 23, 2008

Chanukah in an Christian home I believe that Christians have lots to learn from our Jewish heritage. We as a Christian family tries to obey the Jewish feasts to celebrate our common ground namely G-d.

Happy Chanukah to all our Jewish brothers and sisters around the globe. Be assured that we a Christians really want to learn mor from you. The Jewish plight in our time is that of the Christian faith as well. Reply

Anonymous kck, united states December 19, 2008

hi wow i never got so much information from something like this before Reply

taveion white mckinney, tx December 8, 2008

how i love haunkkah man i never knew how cool haunkkah was. now i see what is basicaly about celabrating the jewish miracle. Reply

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