The Secret of Chanukah
Most Jewish children know the story of Chanukah. 
The Syrian-Greeks conquered the Jews and fixed as their object the
destruction of Judaism by seeking to force Jews to eliminate G-dliness
from Torah. This destruction was epitomized by the defiling of the
Notwithstanding the efforts of the enemy, one cruse of pure olive oil
with the stamp of the High Priest was found and used to relight the
menorah. A miracle took place and the cruse, which normally burned for
one day, lasted for eight days, the time required to make the pure oil
necessary to keep the flame alive in the menorah.
We remember the miracle as the festival of Chanukah.
Curiously, as we will see, we do not remember it primarily as a
festival to celebrate the winning of the war or the regaining of
the Temple. We celebrate it to remember this miracle of the oil.
There are a few things to note before we learn about the one cruse
People should understand that the menorah was lit with perfect,
special, pure super quality oil. But in Jewish law,  in such
an emergency, there is no reason not to use a lower grade.
The menorah could still have been lit. Nevertheless, the Jews chose
to make no compromise to use the perfect oil leaving the outcome to
It is as well to understand how a menorah works.
Olive oil is poured into the seven cups. A wick made of fabric,
preferably cotton, is then inserted. Interestingly, oil cannot burn
on its own; no amount of heat is sufficient to ignite it.
The olive oil is drawn into the wick, which equally interestingly does
not burn on its own. When the wick is engorged with oil, the oil
burns, not the wick. Clearly however, the size of the wick is
variable. Its size determines how much oil is consumed and so burned.
It follows that because a thick wick consumes oil more quickly than
a thin wick, the time of burning can be varied accordingly.
It further follows that with the knowledge of having only one cruse
of oil coupled with the knowledge that it takes eight days to make
a new cruse of perfect oil, an option is to use a wick one-eighth of
the thickness of a standard wick. The oil will then last eight times
The menorah was large and so the wick was easily slivered into eight
pieces in diameter.
Again, the choice was the standard wick and the rest was left to
According to law,  the light from the Chanukah menorah is
entirely different to any other light; all other candle light is
a means to an end, whereas the Chanukah menorah is an end in itself.
This is because, unlike other light which may be for honor (as in,
say, a synagogue) or the actual use of the light (for example, over
Havdalah after Shabbos), it is forbidden to have use from the light
of the Chanukah menorah. We are forbidden to gain benefit from the
light as such.
Why then do Jews place their Chanukah menorah in the window?
(The Chabad custom is to put it in a doorway, opposite the mezuzah.)
The light entails a symbol of publicity - can we say this is of
Indeed, some people, intent on doing the mitzvah beautifully, will
display large blazing lights for the world to see.
Nevertheless, that is not the purpose of the menorah. The proof is
that in times of danger the menorah is lit privately - specifically
so that it cannot be seen. This is evidence that the publication is
not the sole purpose. There is no purpose other than simply the
obligation to light.
When a Jew lights his menorah therefore, he is doing so with no motive
as to utility.
He remembers a miracle which occurred when he performed the mitzvah
without compromise, with a full and sincere heart abandoning the
outcome to Hashem.
If a Jew testifies to this every time he lights, he has just re-
examined a secret blueprint for Jewish life generally.
At a deeper level, the Rebbe points out that there are three aspects
One is the decrees made against us by the Greeks,
the second is the self-sacrifice of the Jews
and the third is that there were two miracles; the war and
These three aspects together are one of the secrets of the essential
connection between every Jew and G-d.
The connection is essential because all three things are completely
Firstly, the decrees:
Curiously, Greeks and Jews lived with each other harmoniously.
Jews, particularly those who were less observant, have blended
intellectually and culturally with many societies in history.
There is a grudging tolerance and, even at certain times, fascination,
one with the other. This was true in all places where Jews lived at
Often the host nation was powerful; whether Greece, Rome, Spain,
England, France or Central Europe, paradoxically Jews' acceptance
by the host environment often occurred simultaneously with anti-
Greece at the time was of course the hallmark of culture.
Within Greek society, as is true today, there were those Jews who
were observant Jews, uncompromising in their Yiddishkeit, and there
were those who lived trying to melt as completely as possible into
The decree of the Greeks did not forbid the learning of Torah; rather,
the requirement was for the G-dliness to be removed from Torah. Torah
was to be understood as having only a rational base.
Oil, the symbol of light and G-dliness, needed to be defiled.
It was the very insistence on the purity of the oil which corresponds
to the insistence of the purity of Torah to be maintained in its
Secondly, the self-sacrifice:
The fighting of a persuasive cultural environment which seduces a
person into accepting it, was highlighted by the self-sacrifice that
the Jews had at that time.
Their self-sacrifice was their refusal to compromise and obey the
decrees choosing instead a dependence on Hashem outside logic.
This was particularly so because the Jewish non-logical connection
with G-d was the very furnace of the fury of the Greeks.
Finally, the third aspect were the miracles.
Miracles are higher than, and outside of, reason.
The miracles showed the special connection between the Jews and their
This supra logical connection between Jews and their G-d at a physical
level is embodied in the lights.
Israel could have used less pure oil and they could have used smaller
wicks. But, for life to be perfect for a Jew, the method is to do the
mitzvos perfectly and then leave it to Hashem. This blind faith in G-d
is its own conduit for bringing down the blessings.
The miracle that happened expresses the relationship which transcends
limitation. The limitation of that one cruse of oil and a standard
size wick. This is why, when we celebrate Chanukah, the Sages made the
miracle of the light the main focus of our celebration, not the
winning of the war.
The whole point of celebrating Chanukah is the celebration of a Jew's
supra natural relationship with G-d.
If we do Hashem's Will, learn Torah and do mitzvos, apart from the by-
product of living a purposeful happy life, it is possible to achieve
- (Back to text) See Shabbos 21b.
- (Back to text) See Mikroei Kodesh on Chanukah for discussion on this problem.
- (Back to text) For the following explanation see Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 3, p. 814ff.