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Over the Top!

Friday, 19 December, 2014 - 10:00 pm

Chanukah is most widely celebrated by kindling the menorah (chanukiah). This commemorates the miracle of the oil lasting eight days instead of one.

The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) teaches us how this mitzvah of kindling the menorah should be performed:

The mitzvah of Chanukah is to kindle one light per household (each night of Chanukah); Mehadrin (those who eagerly pursue mitzvos) kindle a light for every member of the household; Mehadrin min hamehadrin (those who are even more eager than the standard mehadrin)... kindle one on the first day, and on each following night increase the number of lights by one.

Amazingly, while with regard to many commandments – even Biblical ones – we find varying degrees of meticulousness, when it comes to lighting the menorah, Jews around the world do so in a virtually unanimous fashion.  We all kindle the menorah in the most optimal fashion.

We can argue that the reason for this is because it’s an easy mitzvah. But the Lubavitcher Rebbe suggests that nothing is by accident. If this mitzvah – which is Rabbinic in origin – resonates so strongly with so many Jews, it must carry some meaning.

***

Looking at the Chanukah story, we marvel at the miracle of oil lasting 8 days. But really there were two Chanukah miracles. The first was the military victory over our oppressive enemies. It was this critical miracle that secured our safety and religious freedom – and allowed us to rededicate the Holy Temple.

In other words, if the Maccabees were unsuccessful in defeating the Assyrian-Greeks, there would be no Chanukah story whatsoever and we may not be here today as proud Jews celebrating our tradition.  After all, the primary objective of the Assyrian-Greeks was to Hellenize and assimilate the Jews – i.e. destroy the traditions and spirit of Judaism. 

Conversely, if the oil lasted only one day, we would still be proud Jews practicing Shabbat, kosher and possibly even Chanukah. So why all the fuss about the oil?

***

There are many perspectives on this, some of which I’ve shared in the past. Here’s another take that answers both questions:

In order to help the Jewish people G-d didn’t need to make their menorah burn for 8 days. But He wanted to.  The miracle of the oil was G-d’s way of going over-the-top for the Jews. It demonstrated His abundant love. It was G-d saying, “I love you and will go above and beyond what is necessary for you.”

And we respond in kind.

When reflecting on the miracles of Chanukah, it is the second – less necessary – miracle that stands out. This is the miracle that displays G-d’s tremendous devotion to His people. And this awakens the Jewish spirit, prompting even the most ‘secular’ Jew to perform the mitzvah in its most scrupulous fashion!

As we commemorate the lights of Chanukah, let’s remember the message the flames are sharing.

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