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Why all that oil is healthy, spiritually speaking

12/14/2016 04:17:08 PM


 I would be hard pressed (pun intended) to convince you that all that oil is good for you, physically speaking. However, on a spiritual level, the story of oil and the daring and brilliance behind it should give us pause to think.

​What you may not know - the story of the oil did not appear until approximately 600 years after the Chanukah war ended. The "Hallmark" version of the story leads us to believe that as Judah Macabbee and his clan won the war they entered the Temple, cleaned it up, and discovered that there was only enough oil to last for one day for the eternal lamp (ner tamed). The legend states that the oil lasted miraculously for eight days.

This story of oil does not appear until the time of the Talmud and the tale there does not include anything about the war. Why? Well, during the writing of the Talmud, Israel was ruled by the Holy Roman Empire. It was well known that the Romans had no tolerance for any of its subject people celebrating holidays that could be construed as the commemoration of a revolt. In order to preserve the holiday of Chanukah the rabbis writing the Talmud gave it a "new" meaning. They were well aware that the Romans had spies reading the Talmud and they simply wrote a false meaning for the celebration of Chanukah that would be acceptable to the Romans. 

​Instead of the commemoration of a victory in war, the celebration of Chanukah becomes the remembrance of a Godly miracle. So many questions can be asked here. Is this an ethical lie? Is there such a thing? Is telling a mistruth in order to save the holiday a laudatory action? What type of role model does this establish? Is it blatantly manipulative and therefore unsavory?

Hard questions indeed. I prefer to think of it as a necessary reality. Certainly we should avoid lies whenever possible. Sometimes a little lie is necessary (for instance, if a homely bride asks if she looks beautiful, or to save the lives of others in times of persecution) and sometimes a deception can serve the greater good. I believe this is the case with the oil story.

​The greater truth here is that there was a miracle - the Rabbis found a way to keep the celebration of Chanukah alive - albeit at a cost. I have no doubt that this deception was not recorded with glee. It is only with a heavy heart that our learned scholars could do such a thing but in so doing they have left for us quite a legacy. Sometimes we must weigh what is right over what is true. Sometimes we must trust our gut and act accordingly. 

Spirituality cannot be developed in a world of no conflict or no risk. Spirituality requires struggle. The very word "Israel" means to struggle with God. On Chanukah we can be reminded that our Rabbis did not shrink from the task. They did not let Chanukah descend into the depths of oblivion even though that would have been the safer, more honest route. They chose to respond to a higher calling.

As you fry your latkes and eat your jelly donuts, try to worry less about your cholesterol and more about the true genius of the oil. It's lesson is one of spiritual depth and brilliance. Though the end does not generally outweigh the means, sometimes it does. With maturity of thought, depth of spiritual resonance and the courage to stand up for what we feel is right, we begin to approach the true lesson of the oil. Chanukah is truly not a pediatric holiday - it is about the most challenging of adult thinking!

Tue, September 17 2019 17 Elul 5779