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"The Real Miracle of the Oil"

12/05/2018 03:05:15 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

"Mah Chanukah?" - "What is Chanukah?"  The answer to this question is really quite simple.  While the story seemingly revolves around the military victory of the Hasmoneans defeating the Syrian-Greeks, the Talmud Bavli tells us that after entering the defiled Temple in Jerusalem, the Hasmoneans "searched the Temple and were able to find only one flask of oil that contained the seal of the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest).  There was enough oil to last for one day.  A miracle occurred and they lit it (the Temple Menorah) for eight days."  (Masekhet Shabbat 21b)  Rabbi Yosef Karo asks in Beit Yosef: "Why did they (the Rabbis) establish the holiday for eight days?  If there was enough oil to last for one day, then the miracle was really for seven days.  So why establish the holiday for eight days instead of seven?"  It's a valid question, no?  The question must be answered, of course, by asking another question.

When do most human beings seek a miracle?  The truth is that most of us pray for a miracle from Hashem when we are in a situation of distress or hopelessness, and we cannot get ourselves out of it.  It is then that we ask HaShem to "produce" a miracle for us.  Remember when the airplane made an emergency landing on the Hudson River?  Person after person who came off that airplane said that they closed their eyes as the plane hit the water and prayed to HaShem for a miracle.  In essence, they saw their one vessel of oil as being empty thus necessitating a miracle from HaShem.  It is the same for everyone who finds him/herself in a distressful or hopeless situation: we pray for a miracle.  But because the miracle of Chanukah occurred in a situation of victory, that being the defeat of our enemies, it is different and even greater, and it teaches us an important lesson.

The miracle of Chanukah occurred when the one remaining vessel of pure oil was full.  As the oil was poured out of this flask, it did not decrease but was miraculously and immediately replaced.  This means that even on the first day of the rededication of the Temple with the lighting of the Menorah, a great miracle occurred in that the oil in the flask did not diminish for even one moment.  This is the reason we celebrate Chanukah for eight days.  The real miracle of Chanukah happened when the flask was full and remained full, never becoming empty until the end of the eighth day when enough new oil had been created to keep the Temple Menorah continuously lit.  We did not need a miracle due to our distress or our hopelessness of having only one flask of pure oil.  The fact is that the miracle was already there with the eternal presence of Hashem.  And that is the lesson we can take from the miracle of the oil: we all experience miracles from Hashem everyday without having to find ourselves in distressful or hopeless situations.  Most of these miracles go completely unnoticed by most of us.  We need to pause and recognize and be appreciative of these miracles.  We need to thank Hashem on a daily basis for the full flask of pure oil that we have each day by being able to live our lives each day with our families, our friends, and our community.  For this, we must rejoice and give thanks to Hashem!

Wed, August 21 2019 20 Av 5779