Why The Maccabees Rebelled
A Superrational Commitment To The Torah
Why did the Greeks Defile the Oil?
Our Sages  describe the miracle of Chanukah as follows:
During their occupation of the Holy Land, the Greeks entered
the Heichal (the Sanctuary in the Beis HaMikdash) and defiled
all the vessels of olive oil they found. After their defeat, the
Maccabees were able to find only one cruse of oil with the seal
of the High Priest intact. Though it contained enough oil for
only one day, the rekindled Menorah burned miraculously for eight
days, enough time for new oil to be prepared.
The Talmud clearly indicates that the Greeks' defiling of the
oil was intentional and systematic; they neither used it nor
destroyed it. What did they gain by defiling it?
A Spiritual Conflict
This question can be answered by analyzing the nature of the
conflict between the Greeks and the Jews.
While building their empire, the Greeks did not usually attempt
to eradicate indigenous populations; their goal was to Hellenize
and assimilate them into their culture. This was their policy
when they imposed their rule over Eretz Yisrael.
This is why the prayer beginning VeAl HaNissim  states that
the Greeks endeavored to force the Jews to "forget Your Torah and
violate the decrees of Your will" - to forget the Torah as it is
connected to G-d.
The Greeks appreciated the wisdom and beauty of the Torah.
What they opposed was the concept of Torah as G-dly revelation.
They would have liked the Jewish people to study Torah in the
same way they would have studied human wisdom, insensitive to its
G-dliness that transcends the bounds of intellect.
"The Decrees of Your Will"
Likewise, the Greeks did not object to the fulfillment of the
commandments per se, recognizing that every culture, including
their own, has rituals.
Their antagonism was aroused by the idea that mitzvos are a
unique means of connecting to G-d which take us beyond human
This idea is alluded to in the phrase from VeAl HaNissim which
speaks of chukei retzonecha ("the decrees of Your will").
There are three categories of commandments:
- mishpatim (lit., "judgments"),
- eidos (lit., "testimonials"),
- and chukim (lit., "decrees") 
Mishpatim are the mitzvos which appeal to reason, such as
the prohibitions against theft and murder.
The eidos commemorate events in Jewish history, a means of
reliving the past and grasping its significance; for example,
eating matzah on Pesach.
The chukim are those mitzvos which are superrational, "a decree
from Me, [which] you have no permission to question." 
The eidos and the mishpatim enable us to relate to G-d through
means we can rationally appreciate; the chukim, by contrast,
require us to rise above the limitations of our understanding.
And when we do so, these mitzvos connect us with G-d's infinite
It was the observance of the chukim that irked the Greek
mentality and countered their philosophy. 
Impure Light and the Battle Against It
In light of this, we can understand why the Greeks were so intent
on defiling the oil.
They wanted the Menorah to be lit with impure oil so that its
light, symbolic of the light of Torah, would shine forth not
in its pristine purity, but with a human, Greek touch.
The Jews responded to this challenge with mesirus nefesh, self-
sacrifice that leaps beyond the limits of reason.
Though they were pitted against the world's strongest military
power, they were determined to fight, and even to surrender their
lives, in order to be able to study "Your Torah" and carry out
the "decrees of Your Will."
The Power of a Single Cruse of Oil
This power of mesirus nefesh is symbolized by the one cruse of
oil which still bore the seal of the High Priest.
In describing the obligations of the High Priest, the Rambam
writes:  "His glory is to reside in the Beis HaMikdash
throughout the day, and to go home only at night.... His home
must be in Jerusalem and he may not depart from [it]."
The name Yerushalayim is a composite of the two Hebrew words
yirah and shalem, together implying "complete awe." 
The fact that the High Priest never leaves Jerusalem means that
he never abandons this all-encompassing fear of G-d.
Within each of our hearts, we all possess a similar quality.
We, too, can relate to G-d with the intensity of the High Priest.
The potential to attain this level is our "one cruse of oil."
It is hidden in every individual, begging to be discovered.
Although a person might not uncover this internal connection to
G-d in the ordinary circumstances of his life, when challenged,
as in the case of the Maccabees, this inner connection will
And when this Divine bond comes to the fore, "[G-d will] deliver
the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of
the few,"  for nothing can withstand its power.
In their struggle against the Greeks, the Maccabees tapped this
resource - this single cruse of oil, revealing a level of soul
that transcended their usual limits.
In response, G-d revealed forces that transcended the natural
limits of this world.
The Chanukah miracle which followed serves as an eternal
testimony to the essential connection to G-d that the Greeks
sought to sever.
In our day as well, the Chanukah lights remind us that through
"Your Torah" and "the decrees of Your will" - through an
appreciation of the infinite dimension of the Torah and its
commandments - we can develop a complete connection with G-d.
Succeeding in this will lead us to the time when our bond with
G-d will encompass all existence, for "the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed," 
with the coming of the Redemption.
May this take place in the immediate future.
Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, Chanukah; Vol. X, p. 291;
The maamar entitled LeHavin Inyan Chanukah 5739;
Letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe pp. 204-207
- (Back to text) Shabbos 21b.
- (Back to text) Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 59.
- (Back to text) See Ramban on Devarim 6:20; Sefer HaMaamarim 5701, p. 51 ff.
- (Back to text) Rashi on Bamidbar 19:2; cf. Yoma 67b, and Tanchuma, Parshas Chukas, sec. 7.
- (Back to text) Within the category of chukim, an approach existed that the
Greeks could have accepted - observance based on the
rationale that since the Torah is based on wisdom, the
fulfillment of all of its mitzvos must be validly motivated.
(This would include even those whose reasons defy our
limited mortal perspective.)
This rationale would not have run contrary to the Greek
approach. The Jewish observance of chukim, is not, however,
based on the existence of an underlying rationale, but
rather, on a commitment to G-d that transcends the limits of
understanding. Such an approach could not be accepted by the Greeks.
- (Back to text) Rambam, Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 5:7.
- (Back to text) Bereishis Rabbah, Parshas Bereishis, sec. 56; Tosafos on
Taanis 16a, s.v. Har.
- (Back to text) The prayer beginning VeAl HaNissim (Siddur Tehillat HaShem, loc. cit.).
- (Back to text) Yeshayahu 11:9.