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
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
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
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.