Saturday, December 09, 2006

Secret of Oil

(Taken from a weekly publication of Hammaayan Institutes.
Translated by Rabbi Shabtai Teicher)

Before his death Moshe blessed the tribe of Levi: "May G-d bless his force and accept the work of his hands, crush the flanks of his resistance and his enemies shall never rise again" (Dueteronomy 33:11). The Hasmoneans were descendants of Levi; and Chazal said that Moshe saw that in the future they would wage war against a powerful enemy. He prayed for them because he saw that they were few against many. Their fighting force was only twelve together with Elazar who was worth myriads.

The Talmud (Shabbat) asks what was the miracle over which the celebration of Channukkah was fixed? The answer to this question is not the amazing miracle of thirteen people who defeated an entire empire. Rather, the Talmud says that Channukkah celebrates the miracle of the oil which burned for eight days. Certainly, this needs explanation. What is the secret of the oil that it outweighs all the other mighty and awesome miracles which took place at that time?

The secret of the oil is that it indicates the power of quality. At the time, the mighty Greek empire was sowing the seeds of confusion among the Jews. Through iniquitous agents it introduced a foreign culture glorifying the physical body and espousing heresy. Many people were drawn into that culture of worshiping material substance and natural forces.

However, a small group of people held fast to their spiritual purity and refused to abandon the ways of holiness whatsoever. It was with this power of purity that they went to wage war where the natural arrangement of forces offered them no opportunity for victory. Their victory in itself was a refutation to fundamental beliefs of the Greeks which exalted the forces of nature and denied the efficacy of supernatural, spiritual intervention.

Throughout the generations we are able to see how the few who hold fast to their spiritual purity succeed against the waves of heresy. When the masses are drawn into the flood of spiritual destruction, there are those few who rise above it all, and who eventually exert a tremendous force to pull the entire nation after them, and return the crown to its place.

It was individuals such as Rebbe Yochanan ben Zakai who at the time of the destruction of the Temple asked for Yavne and her sages. In this way a period of renewal of the Torah began, which has been going on until this generation when those like the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rav raised the Torah from the ashes of the European Holocaust. Now, it is flowering and the benches of the study halls are once again full.

The power of purity to overcome is the secret of the pure olive oil which is not allowed to have the slightest impurity or foreign element. Only then can it give its light in the Holy Temple.

It is this power of purity to which the Rambam refers when he wrote about the words of Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya: "G-d wanted to make merit for Israel. Therefore, He increased the amount of Torah and mitzvot." The Rambam wrote, "When a person does one of the 613 mitzvot properly, without the admixture of any worldly goal or contamination whatsoever, then he merits to the life of the world-to-come. Since there are many mitzvot, it is impossible that in his lifetime a person will not do one the way it is supposed to be done and completely; and when he does that mitzvah, then he lives because of the deed."

In other words, it is for the sake of the one, solitary mitzvah that a person will do perfectly and with complete quality that there are such a large number and variety of mitzvot. The reason is not quantitative but qualitative.

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