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Think about the oil your latke was fried in




Delving Deeper, by Rabbi Shmuel Bloch

However when one focuses more deeply on the subtleties and details of the Chanukah story, a fascinating picture emerges that is not so widely known. One aspect that is integral to Chanukah was the miracle concerning the oil. Let us focus on the oil and its role in the Chanukah Story.

When the Maccabees wished to rededicate the Temple after being victorious against the Syrian- Greeks, they searched for jar of oil that had been untouched by them. This is so that they could light the menorah in the Temple. One of the miracles of Chanukah is that amid the destruction, one sealed and untouched jar of oil was found. There was enough oil for one day and yet it lasted for eight days. (Shabbos 21B, Rambam Hilchos Chanukah Chapter 3 Halocha 1-3) 

Minhag to eat foods cooked in oil

Oil plays such a prominent role in the Chanukah story that it is a universal Jewish Minhag (custom) to eat foods cooked in oil during the eight days of Chanukah. Hence we eat latkes fried in oil and Sufganiyot (Jelly donuts) are extremely popular in Israel. Each and every time we eat these famous foods, we are reminded of the miracle of the oil and its importance in the Chanukah story.

The Midrash (Midrash Rabbah Parshas Tetzaveh chapter 36 section 1) is replete with fascinating comparisons between oil and the Jewish people.

The Midrash describes how oil is a unique substance in that it does not mix with other liquids to form a new entity. So too the Jewish People have never totally assimilated within the nations of the world and disappeared entirely. This point requires deep thought and contemplation to fully appreciate its vital message for all of us.

The Syrian Greeks that the Maccabees fought have long disappeared into history. Yet, once upon a time they were one of the great empires who ruled over parts of the world. Today centuries later, if one wished to learn about them, one needs to enrol at a university for a course in classical civilisation. Their people, culture, history, lifestyle and philosophy as it was when they were at their peak have vanished, never to return. 

Jews are centre-stage in world history

Yet, the Jewish people are thriving in the 21 century, living an authentic Jewish lifestyle that is virtually no different to the Maccabees so many years ago. Not only are we still in existence but the Jewish people are more than ever centre-stage in world history. The world is fixated and continually preoccupied with events that happen in the land of Israel. Open any newspaper and the reality of this truth is evident

Mark Twain famously and eloquently wrote about this phenomenon over a hundred years ago:

“If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvellous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it.

“The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendour, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

(“Concerning The Jews,” Harper’s Magazine, 1899).

Victory over inevitable destruction

One should not take this astounding phenomenon for granted. So many times in Jewish history the situation looked appalling and all looked lost and destroyed. Suddenly, with Hashem’s Divine intervention, things turn around. Victory and triumph are achieved when just a few moments ago destruction and devastation were inevitable. It happened then during the era of the Maccabees and has been repeated so many times since then.

Look where we are today almost seventy years after the Holocaust. If you were living in 1945, could you conceptualise the reality of 2014? The state of Israel is thriving; there are countless Yeshivas and Torah institutions all around the world; Jews who were previously unaffiliated are now rediscovering their heritage.

All we can do is marvel at what is happening all around us. 

Hashem performed miracles for us all the time. Some are obvious – like the miracle of the Chanukah oil. Some are more discreet. Yet we need to constantly internalize the reality that Hashem has never let us down and He never will. The Jewish People are eternal and when we say Hallel on Chanukah, real appreciation to Hashem for all we have needs to come from us.  

As you are enjoying your next Latke, take a minute to think about the oil it was fried in and remember the deep powerful lessons we learn from oil. Thinking about the oil helps us realise what a beautiful and fantastic Yomtov Chanukah really is!

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Anon

    Dec 17, 2014 at 8:03 am

    ‘If we say Hallel on Channukah, when we were saved by Hashem from destruction , why don’t we say it on Purim, when we were also saved (by Hashem)?’

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