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The War Is All About The Oil

The War Is All About The Oil


We often hear critics of the war in Iraq claim that "it's all about the oil." We will refrain from commenting on the substance of this argument, but we would like to note that there is a precedent to going to war over oil. In fact, perhaps the first war waged over oil was the war fought by the Maccabees against their Greek oppressors.

"What is Chanukah? …when the Greeks entered the Sanctuary [of the Holy Temple] they defiled all the oil therein. When the royal house of the Hashmoneans overpowered [the enemy], they searched and found only one jug of oil which was sealed with the signet ring of the High Priest..." (Talmud, Shabbat 22b)

Imagine the invading Greek army entering the Holy Temple where gold, silver and precious stones were everywhere to be found, and searching for the... oil! Moreover, they weren't out to pillage or destroy the oil; they merely defiled it, rendering it invalid for use in kindling the Menorah.

According to Chassidic teachings, there was a profound reason why the Greeks were so bent on defiling the oil—so deep, in fact, that the Greeks themselves did not understand why they had such a powerful urge to do this unholy task.

Let's back up a little and discuss the nature of the ancient Greeks and their occupation of the Land of Israel.

The Hellenists idolized the human body and consequently were very involved in athletics and body aesthetics. But most of all they cherished man's greatest faculty—the mind. They worshipped all intellectual pursuits, and especially philosophy.

For this reason, the Greeks didn't have a problem with Torah per se. In fact, as an intellectual people, they treasured the Torah, recognizing that it is a gem full of wisdom. "For [the Torah] is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the nations, who shall hear all these decrees [of the Torah] and say, 'Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation!'" (Deuteronomy 4:6). In fact, the Talmud tells us (Megillah 9a), that the first translation of the Torah (after the times of Moses) was commissioned by a Greek king, Ptolemy Philadelphus.

This was also true concerning the majority of the mitzvot. The inherent beauty of the mitzvot is plain to the eyes of the objective beholder, and the Greeks were great admirers of beauty.

What got the Greeks hopping mad was the fact that Jews didn't view the Torah as a piece of art or wisdom. The Hellenists simply could not accept the chukim--those commandments which have no rational reason, but which we do simply because G‑d has so commanded us. They loved the logic of the Torah, but objected to the holiness the Jews attributed to it. Indeed, they would have been perfectly content for the Jews to study Torah as an intellectual pursuit, just as one studies mathematics or the sciences. Their mantra was, "by all means study Torah, but forget about the Giver of the Torah."

That was the initial attitude of the Greeks upon conquering the land of Israel. It was only after they saw that Jews weren't willing to sacrifice the holiness of Torah that they set out on their campaign of death and destruction.

According to Kabbalah, oil (especially olive oil) represents chochmah (wisdom). Just as oil rises to the top of all other fluids, so too wisdom is the most lofty of all human qualities. And while all wisdom is oil, only the Torah is pure, holy oil. True to their philosophy, the Greeks made sure to defile all the holy oil on which they could lay their impure hands, signifying what they thought to be the demise of the holiness of the Torah.

When the Jews fought back and won, it is quite clear that their victory would have been quite incomplete had they been compelled to use impure oil to light the monorah. Instead G‑d performed a miracle, demonstrating His love for us and His appreciation for the battle we waged on behalf of His holy Torah.

The above is merely a small sampling of what Chassidic teaching offers about this special holiday. If you would really like to enrich your Chanukah, we advise you to find your local rabbi, and beg him to teach you some Chassidic discourses about Chanukah (or on any subject, for that matter...) Of course, there's always, with its dozens of articles and essays exploring the holiday's inner dimension.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Levi Phila, PA December 17, 2006

Great Title Nice article and even better title... Reply

chava brodofsky atlanta, ga December 16, 2006

war over oil Metphoically speaking does not negate the fact that this country was attacked first in 9-11. the war is not totally about oil. it's also about antisemitism and Jewish survival, American survival a country that has been good to the Jews more and more after educating of the holocaust. We have a holocaust musem in america. We have kosher food readily available from formerly nobody ever thought would be kosher, like oreos. this country respects orthodoxy. unless the person is intimidating. Sometimes I thought ignorance was bliss, but ignorance breeds hatred. Knowledge is power. Living in Mississippi people thought I was a witch because I public davened in Hebrew. I explained it is the language your lord spoke. He was from Israel. Ignorance breeds hatred. Reply

Marina Farmingville, NY via December 16, 2006

Thank You for studying, knowing and bringing this knowledge to us. May Hashem bless your mission over and over again. Reply

Thomas Karp December 14, 2006

By contrast to the Greeks,- the Muslims don't view the Torah intellectually, but all chukim; the result being the heart taking the lead against and over the mind.

Because of this, for all too many amongst the sons of Ishmael, the Torah is like, as I heard one rabbi mention it, the fire in the pans of Aharon's rebellious sons that ended up burning them.

Much of the format of Talmud appears to resemble the format of the discourses between Plato and Socrates, which does elicit a certain intellectual growth (and in the case of Judaism, makes it truly special amongst the world's religions).

The Greeks though, as do secularists ('hellenists') nowadays, couldn't fathom that G-d cannot be limited to the rational mind; that is the mere limits of the our rational minds; nor can He that designed and created us all Himself by limited to an anthropomorphic form.

Great article, rabbi. Very thought provoking. Reply

Boris December 14, 2006

Great, great, amazing While the story is profoundly touching and educating, indeed, I would like to emphasize the outstanding storytelling abilities of the author. It is plain pleasure to read. Happy Chanukah to everybody! Reply

Anonymous Caracas, Venezuela December 14, 2006

History repeats itself … Oil was, is and will be important for warming, nourishing, lighting and most subtle for worshiping. All the Torah is G-d’s light and the light will be celebrated and care of forever. Reply

Anonymous TORNTO, CANADA December 13, 2006

A ''WORTE'' FAINOLI i fond a good chanukah speech for my shtebel thank you! Reply

R. B. Texas December 12, 2006

thank you I was looking for a good chanukah thought, and I found yours! It is very articulate and well written, and you have picked a great subject! Thank you! Reply

Ben December 10, 2006

WOW AMAZING truly inspiring going to tell this over to as many people as possible ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Reply

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