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olive oil

The Maccabees could have lit the Menorah with regular oil, but wanting to repair their relationship with God, they insisted on a pure product.  

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

Our sages tell us that Aaron the High Priest became very distressed upon discovering that he would not be a part of the dedication ceremony of the Tabernacle in the desert. He thought it may have been a sign that he was not fully forgiven for his role in the sin of the Golden Calf, realizing that he had caused a rift between God and the Jewish people. He wasn’t sure if he could ever make amends.

God tells Aaron not to worry, that he will be given the task of lighting the menorah, an even greater honor than participating in the dedication ceremony.

What was so special about the menorah in the Tabernacle, and later in the Holy Temple? Why was lighting it considered to be such a great honor? Why has there always been an emphasis on the purity of the oil used for lighting the menorah?

It is explained that the honor of lighting the menorah in the Tabernacle, which was delegated to Aaron, represented not only the menorah of the Tabernacle but the Chanukah menorahs of each and every Jew in the future.

Fast forward a thousand years. The Maccabees rebel against the Greeks and win. They march into Jerusalem (like the Israeli soldiers of the 1967 SIx-Day War) and enter the Holy Temple. The sight: destruction and desecration.

We are taught that the state of the Holy Temple symbolized the state of their relationship with God. The Maccabees and much of the Jewish community realized they had strayed far from Torah observance during the period of the Greek occupation. They, too, became upset too, just as Aaron had been.

The Maccabees could have lit the Menorah with regular oil, even impure oil. It didn’t have to be pure oil. But they were unhappy with doing simply the bare minimum. They wanted to do more than was required. They wanted to light with pure olive oil. They wanted to repair their relationship with God and come close to Him again. They insisted on pure oil only, even though it was only enough for one day.

The Maccabees did what they could. One day’s worth of pure oil to rededicate the Temple and show God their efforts in trying to return to Him. And what happened? One day went by, two days went by, three days…the oil lasted eight days! A miracle occurred! God had essentially said to them, “Welcome home…I’m glad you’re back!”

Why eight days and not five or ten? That’s because it took eight days for the Maccabees to acquire a new supply of pure oil. God made sure that their efforts would not go unnoticed, and what they had started –lighting with pure olive oil—would be able to continue unabated. And it did, until the destruction of the Temple.

When we take small steps to come close to God, He responds with big ones!

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