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There is always a pitcher of oil

  • RabbiHazdan
Our Jewish festivals encourage us to journey through time and to increase our knowledge and awareness of our history. More significantly, our festivals are potent with opportunity to access meaning and direction. They give us strength and inspiration to confront the challenges of the present day.
by RABBI DOVID HAZDAN | Dec 07, 2017

In our blessing thanking G-d for the miracles that we have experienced as a people, we include the words:He made miracles for our forefathers in those days and in our present time.”

The festival of Chanukah commemorates events that transpired almost 22 centuries ago. A ruthless Assyrian Greek king - Antiochus 4th - enacted laws and decrees that specifically targeted the Jewish religion’s devotion to G-d. They tolerated the quaint cultural practices and traditions associated with Judaism, but they wanted to root out our commitment to Hashem –-Creator of the Universe. This was a war to eradicate our spiritual existence and identity.

The Holy Tmple was invaded, desecrated and robbed of it treasures. Antiochus placed an idol of Zeus on the holy altar and forced the Jews to bow before it under penalty of death. As his troops tightened their grips on our people, the vulnerable Jews seemed incapable of resistance.

Matityahu, a priest from the small village of Modin, was to change the course of history together with his five sons, and with the call of “Mi LaShem Eilai” - “All who are with G-d - follow me”.

Matityahu gathered support and miraculously overthrew their oppressors. A small group of 6 000 Jews heroically, incredulously, defeated a heavily armed battalion of over 50 000 seasoned enemy troops.

Returning to rededicate the Temple, they found that all the holy oil used to kindle the lights of the candelabrum had deliberately been defiled. A small pitcher of undefiled oil - still sealed with the seal of the High Priest - was found. 

There was enough oil to burn for one day.  They kindled the lights with heavy hearts, knowing that it would take eight days to produce new supplies of sacred oil. To their surprise, the oil miraculously continued to burn for eight days.

The finding of the tiny cruse of pure uncontaminated oil, was profoundly symbolic. It teaches us that, notwithstanding the prevailing conditions of defilement that envelopes us, we can and must search for our inner purity and soul that eludes and transcends the grasp and designs of darkness. 

Amid decaying values of morality and overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness, we need to dig deeper into ourselves, to find the “pure pitcher of oil” - the essence of our inner soul that is not conditioned by circumstances and the prevailing loss of purpose or conscience. 

We need to find and access our incorruptible core. And when we do, and when we ignite it, it has the capacity to transcend expectations and reality to extend its light, miraculously defying the milieu and the natural order.

It was the same inner journey that Matityahu and his men travelled in the trenches of battle and war. It was when they found their “inner pitcher of oil” - when they discovered their indelible essence connection to G-d - that they accessed the fortitude and courage to enter the battlefield and vanquish the formidable enemy - against all odds.

The Festival of Chanukah records historical events of heroism, courage and power of the spirit. It echoes its message through the centuries to our present day. It kindles the hope and invincible spirit of humanity. 

It reminds us of the infinite force of omnipotent G-d and signals the victory of spirituality, justice, tolerance and freedom over the forces of materialism, prejudice, persecution and darkness.

In South Africa, Israel and throughout the world, whenever the darkness of doubt and despair overwhelms the light of optimism and hope, we need to find our individual and collective “small pitcher of oil”.

 We cannot submit ourselves to apathy, indifference and surrender. We need to access our inner spirit and the insuppressible soul of society. We need to begin sharing light. A tiny ray of light dispels immense darkness. And the fragile flame that we kindle in ourselves and around us has a strength to defy our horizons and our assumed limitations and change the course of history.

Happy Chanukah!

Rabbi Dovid Hazdan is spiritual leader of the Great Park Synagogue and Dean of Torah Academy.

 

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