The Meaning of the Oil Miracle
The story of Chanukah is a story of triumph. The triumph of the
few over the many, the weak over the strong, the light of Torah over the
darkness of the Hellenist culture and philosophy that had swept unforgivingly
over the ancient world, leading to the severe persecution of Torah-abiding
But the miracle that takes front and center in the festival of
Chanukah is not the military victory of the Maccabees, a small and ill-equipped
band of brothers who defeated one of the mightiest armies in the world, but a
much quieter, less “triumphant” miracle.
After the Maccabees reclaimed the Holy Temple from the Syrian
Greeks, they found it desecrated and defiled. And yet, pure-hearted and
determined to find a glimmer of hope in the darkness, they searched oil to
light the Menorah and rededicate the Temple. Incredibly, they found one tiny,
untouched cruse of oil that the Greeks did not manage to defile—enough to light
the menorah for one night. A miracle occurred, and the oil lasted for eight
days and eight nights, until new oil could be prepared.
What is so celebration-worthy about the miracle of the oil?
Oil represents the suprarational soul that rises above nature,
like the way oil rises above all other liquids. The soul, and its innate bond
with G‑d, is the only force powerful enough to extricate a Jew from the
spiritual morass of Hellenistic Greece.
That’s why we celebrate the miracle of the oil. It’s not just
about the oil. It’s about what the oil represents: a pure and powerful faith
within us that can never be tainted, no matter the struggle and adversity we
Adversity and Disability in a Different Light
While the awesome military victory of Chanukah inspires pride and
gratitude, the miracle of the oil teaches us a critical life lesson: how to
find light in the midst of what seems like utter chaos and darkness.
There are two ways we can view adversity. We can see it as
something we need to wage war against, something we must dodge and defeat, a
challenging experience from which we must try to emerge unscathed and unmarked.
Another way to view adversity is not as an obstacle on the path of
life, but as an integral part of life, something to emerge from stronger,
wiser, with new understanding of ourselves and the world. A propellant of
growth and shaper of character. Something to be embraced, not mourned.
To view disability through the first lens is to constantly be
looking at what is broken within a person and how to fix it—to solve or avoid
the challenges caused by that “brokenness.”
To view disability through the second lens is to acknowledge that
much more disabling than a physical disability is the idea that disability
makes someone less than whole. That the potency of what they can achieve is
somehow diminished, their worth to the community somehow lessened because of
their struggle. In the words of athlete, actor, and activist Aimee Mullins, who
walks on prosthetic legs, “The only true disability is a crushed spirit.”
To view disability through the second lens is to realize that, in
fact, disability—or any other type of adversity—can give someone a wholeness
that even many able-bodied individuals lack: a sense of empowerment, a
knowledge of one’s true worth and potential, an opportunity to know just what
they’re made of.
Finding and Lighting the Oil Within
Adversity comes in many forms. We all have adversity in our lives.
The question is not whether we will face it, but how we will.
Perhaps the most crippling form of adversity we face in our
generation is not something that threatens us from without (as in the case with
Hellenistic Greece), but rather from within. The greatest challenges we face to
realizing our dreams are the machinations of our own minds, our distorted
perceptions of ourselves (Are we really good enough? Capable enough? Do we have
what it takes?).
It’s at these times especially that we must remember the miracle
of the oil.
Our highest powers, our mightiest strengths, our brightest talents
stem from that pure cruse of oil within us. It is the source of that rare and
powerful gift that each of us has to offer society. And that’s true no matter
who we are. No matter what our spiritual level. No matter our physical
abilities. No matter what others may see or think of us. No matter what
limiting views we have of ourselves.
The oil is always there. It’s in our friends, our family members,
our coworkers; it’s in those who are like us, and those who are much different
from us; it’s in people living with disabilities. It’s in us.
The oil is there. But it’s our job to set it aflame.
The miracle of Chanukah was not only that the oil was found; it
was that it burned for eight days and eight nights. Inspiration is, by
definition, transient. Inspiration that lasts, that really changes a
person, transcends human nature. When the small flicker of realization of our
potential becomes a flame burning strong and steady within us, motivating us to
use our strengths and talents to brighten the world around us, this is, truly,
a personal miracle.
One of the beautiful things about a flame is that it has the
unlimited potential to light other flames—on and on, ad infinitum. Once we’ve
tapped into the power of our own souls, we can use our fire to help others tap
into theirs. We can show them just how powerful they are; how their adversity
or disability is not something to be fixed or overcome or fought against, but
embraced and utilized and learned from. When they are feeling defeated, we can
remind them of the strength of their character, the resilience of their spirit,
the rareness and value of their potential.
And once we ignite their spark, there’s no limit to how many
flames they may light in turn.