Chasidic Discourse - Mai Chanukah
"What is Chanukah?
The Rabbis taught:
"The twenty-fifth of Kislev begins the eight days of Chanukah.
When the Greeks entered the Holy Temple they defiled all the oil.
When the rulers of the House of Chashmonean succeeded in gaining
the upper hand and vanquished them, the Holy Temple was searched
and but one flask of oil was found with the seal of the high
priest still intact. There was only enough oil to last but one
day. A miracle occurred and it lasted for eight days. The
following year these days were established and made into festive
days [commemorated by the recitation] of Hallel and [paens of]
All ritual items used in the Holy Temple had to first be
carefully inspected to assure that they were without blemish and
Rashi explains the Gemara's question, "What is Chanukah?"
The rabbis teach that the twenty-fifth day of Kislev is the
beginning of the eight-day Chanukah festival, [for the reason
just mentioned and which will now be elaborated upon.]
The Gemara desires to know, says Rashi, what miraculous
event was responsible for the holiday of Chanukah.
The [animals and birds used for] sacrificial offerings had to be
healthy beyond a shadow of doubt. The pile of wood used on the
altar had to be completely free of worms or rot.
The various types of flour used for different offerings had to be
The wines and oils utilized in conjunction with the various
offerings and baking had to be free of sediment, and the oil used
for the menorah needed to be the choicest and of the most select
Concerning the oil of the menorah, the Torah says that it must be
zach and kosis.
The Gemara explains that zach means clean and that kosis means
There are nine grades of oil that can be extracted from olives,
but in pressing the olives to obtain oil for the menorah only
three [of the finest] grades were used.
The oil for the menorah was therefore one of the costliest items
in the Holy Temple.
As is known, all these items, flour, wine, oil, as well as the
vessels of the Holy Temple were to be guarded against coming in
contact with a ritually impure [object or] person; [should they
come into contact with impurity they would themselves become
defiled and be rendered unfit for service in the Holy Temple.]
Therefore, the oil selected for the menorah was placed in flasks.
Each flask was then sealed with the seal of the high priest. The
flasks were then stored in a special place.
When the Greeks conquered the holy city of Yerushalayim (may it
be rebuilt and reestablished speedily in our days, Amen,) and
seized the Holy Temple, they defiled all the oils that were
When the Chashmonean, with G-d's help, vanquished the Greeks [and
entered the Holy Temple] they found that of all the flasks of oil
prepared for use in the menorah only one flask still remained
sealed with the high priest's seal.
As Tosefos explains, this one flask was buried in the ground -
proof that this flask was not handled [or moved] by the Greeks.
In this one remaining flask there was sufficient oil for only one
day's use. G-d made a miracle that this oil sufficed to fill the
menorah for eight days - sufficient time to produce new oil for
the menorah. Because of this great miracle, that the oil of this
one small flask lasted eight complete days, these eight days -
beginning the twenty-fifth of Kislev - were established in the
following year as festive days with the recitation of Hallel and
paens of praise to G-d.
The battle with the Greeks was [more] spiritual [than physical].
It was unlike other wars fought for material ends, [such as]
conquering land, enslaving the defeated inhabitants and
plundering all their posssessions. The war the Greeks waged on
the Jews, however, was for a spiritual and not physical purpose.
The Greeks were extremely cultured and had a very high degree of
respect for the Torah as a remarkable work of culture. They also
held the Jewish people in high esteem for their having such a
marvelous Torah, and for possessing the intellectual capacity to
understand and comprehend such a profound and clever Torah.
The Greeks also held in high regard many of the mitzvos which the
Jews observed. They were, however, tremendous heretics, denying
the existence of G-d and the sanctity of Torah and mitzvos.
The Midrash states: "A dead body [rationally] does not defile,
neither does water [logically] purify. However, G-d says: `I have
so decreed and I have so established; you are not permitted to
transgress My decrees."'
There is no logical reason why a mikveh, an assemblage of water,
purifies - it is a Divine decree and a strictly delineated
command, and Jews may not act otherwise. For Torah is not only
profoundly intelligent [to man], but Torah and mitzvos are also
G-d's intellect and will, which transcend human comprehension.
Explains that all the items needed for the Holy Temple, flour,
wine, oil, wood and the vessels of the Temple, except for the
animals, had to be protected from coming into contact with ritual
Only three out of the nine grades of olive oil could be used for
the menorah; it therefore was one of the most expensive items in
the Holy Temple.
The Greeks conducted a spiritual battle. When they seized the
Holy Temple they defiled the oil.
Because of the miracle of the flask of oil the eight days of
Chanukah were established as a festival.
The verse states: "These are the eidus, chukim and mishpatim...."
All positive commands - mitzvos we are obligated to do - and
negative commands - those matters which we must refrain from
doing - are divided into the three general categories of eidus,
testimonies, chukim, decrees, and mishpatim, laws.
Eidus are those commandments which serve as a testimony [too
and/or a remembrance of past significant events etc.,] such as
Shabbos, Passover, Sukkos and the like.
Chukim are those commands which have no rational explanation.
In commenting on the verse, "This [the laws of the Red Heifer] is
the chukah of the Torah..." Rashi notes the following: "Because
Satan and the Nations ask Jews, `What kind of mitzvah is the Red
Heifer, and what rationale is there for it,' therefore the Torah
[prefaces this mitzvah with a declarative statement and] writes
chukah - it is a Divine decree ordained by G-d and no one is
permitted to question it."
Even King Solomon, the wisest of men, could not fathom the
reasoning of the command of the Red Heifer, as is written, "I
said: `I will gain wisdom, but it is far from me."' King Solomon
hoped to gain wisdom and understand the command of the Red
Heifer, but found that it transcended [even] his intellect.
The sacrificial offering of the Red Heifer combined two opposites
and differed from all other offerings.
The Red Heifer was burned together with wood from a cedar - one
of the largest trees - as well as with wood from an eizov - one
of the smallest trees - and a piece of dyed red wool. The ash of
this mixture, when combined with water purifies the ritually
impure. However, the person who prepared the Red Heifer mixture
became impure! This, then, is the meaning of chukim - they are
Divinely ordained decrees [that defy human logic].
Mishpatim are those commands which are dictated even by human
Examples are: honoring one's parents, charity, the prohibition
against stealing and the like. Logically, it is easier to perform
eidus and mishpatim commands - the reasons for which are more or
less known - than it is to perform chukim commands.
However, man's honest logic dictates that chukim commands should
be performed with a degree of pleasure similar to that of eidus
and mishpatim commands.
Truly, however, eidus and mishpatim commands should be performed
with acceptance of the Divine Yoke to the same degree as the
Divine Yoke must be accepted in order to perform chukim, for the
main reason mitzvos are performed are because G-d so commanded
and not because of their logical imperative.
Herein lay the root cause of the Greek's waging spiritual war
against the Jews; they desired to deprive Jews the sanctity of
They wanted to convince the Jewish people that Torah was no more
than wise teachings, thereby striping Jews of their notions of
the sanctity of mitzvos in general and chukim in particular.
This is alluded to in [the special Chanukah prayer which makes]
the statement: "...to make them forget Your Torah and violate the
decrees of Your will," i.e. to make Jews forget that Torah is
Divine wisdom and to ensure that Jews violate those commands
which are in the category of chukim.
The goal of the Greeks was to tear away the Jewish people from
their belief in, and self-sacrificing devotion to, the blessed
This is as our sages state: "The Greeks declared [to the Jewish
people]: `Inscribe on the horn of an ox that you have no part in
the G-d of Israel,"' i.e. the Greeks desired that Jews tear
themselves away from G-dliness. For this reason, when they
temporarily succeeded in battle and captured Yerushalayim and
tore into the Holy Temple, they defiled the oil of the menorah,
for the whole aim of the Greeks was to extinguish the Divine
light of the Jewish people.
But, Matisyahu and his children, together with a segment of the
Jews devoted to Torah and mitzvos vanquished the Greeks with
their heartfelt cry of "Shema Yisroel" ["Hear, O Israel"] and
with their "...the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One," true
Having vanquished the heretical Greeks, the Jews desired to once
again kindle the Divine light among the Jewish people. G-d then
granted them the twofold present of finding a kosher flask of
oil, and that instead of its burning only one night it burned for
The spiritual battle against the Greeks and their ilk is to be
found in every generation.
There are found non-Jewish as well as Jewish Greek-heretics who
wage a spiritual war and seek to tear Jews away from G-dliness.
There exist among these heretics freethinkers of various stages
and degrees, some are complete heretics, others are half-way
heretics, while some are one third or one fourth heretics.
Then there are those who are so called "modern" sycophants, who
hold of the concept of family purity but disagree with the
concept of a kosher and proper mikvah, who agree with the
importance of providing children with a Jewish religious
education, but do not agree with the prohibition of mingling of
the sexes, etc.
There is also a form of Greek-heresy that emanates from one's
Even our greatest enemy, Bilam praised the Jewish people with
such phrases as "A people that dwells apart..." and "How goodly
are your tents, Ya'akov...."
But these blind and worldly hangers-on seek for Jews and non-Jews
to commingle. All this extinguishes (Heaven forfend) the G-dly
illumination possessed by Jews.
This, then, is the meaning of the Chanukah lights - that with the
"...the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One" self-sacrifice, we even
now find the flask of oil of proper Jewish education, so as to
illuminate Jewish homes with the G-dly menorah of Torah and
Explains that mitzvos are divided into the categories of eidus,
chukim and mishpatim.
Eidus and mishpatim are comprehended rationally, but chukim are
G-d's Divine decrees.
The spiritual battle the Greeks waged against the Jews was in
order "...to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees
of Your will" - to extinguish the G-dly holiness found within
A small band of Torah and mitzvah observant Jews, girded with the
self-sacrifice of "...the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One,"
vanquished the Greek heretics and rekindled the Divinely sacred
Explains how the spiritual war waged by heretics is repeated in
[Also explains] the evil effect of a bad environment. However,
proper Jewish education - the [sacred] flask of oil, will
illuminate the menorah of Torah and mitzvos in Jewish homes.