Yes, with this edition dated December 2, we are to soon to observe the joyous holiday of Chanukah. With that said, it is my pleasure to once again cite for your reading pleasure another learned work by Rabbi Yanki Tauber of Woodmere, entitled, “Inside Time: A Chassidic Perspective on the Jewish Calendar” (Meaningful Life Center, 2015), volume two. In this volume, we learn about one aspect of the Chanukah ritual observance that has in recent years been revived by many Jewish households, that is, the use of olive oil in lighting the menorah.
The first essay that I bring to your attention is a teaching found in the section themed to Purim. However, what makes this particular essay relevant now is of how the author contrasts the use of oil in the Chanukah ritual to the consumption of wine at Purim meals.
Rabbi Tauber begins by citing this verse from the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 105:5: “Oil permeates the entire substance of a thing.”
Rabbi Tauber then teaches us the following from his essay entitled, “Oil and Wine”:
“Oil is in. Oil shuns superficiality — you won’t find it riding a fad or angling for a photo opportunity. When oil comes in contact with something, it saturates it to the core, permeating it in its entirety.
“When set aglow, oil is the master of understatement. Soundlessly it burns — not for the oil lamp the vulgar cackling of firewood or even the faint sizzle of candlewax. Its light does not burst through the door and bulldoze the darkness away; instead, it gently coaxes the gloom to shimmer with a spiritual luminescence.”
The author continues:
“Chanukah is oil, Purim is wine.
“Chanukah is the triumph of the Jewish soul. The Greeks had no design on the Jew’s body; it was the soul of Israel they coveted, seeking to indoctrinate her mind with their philosophy and tint her spirit with their culture. We fought not for the freedom of our material self but to liberate identity from Hellenist domination.”
“Chanukah is commemorated with oil. Chanukah celebrates the innerness of the Jewish soul, the essence which permeates and sanctifies every nook and cranny of the Jew’s life. Chanukah celebrates the secret glow of the spirit which, rather than confronting the darkness, infiltrates it and transforms it from within.”
A related theme is expressed further in another essay, this one directed exclusively to Chanukah observance, entitled, “The Transparent Body” wherein we learn the following teaching that ties in with the theme of the previously cited essay.
“Yet the battle waged by the Hasmoneans against the Greeks was the most spiritual battle in Jewish history. The Greeks did not endeavor to physically destroy the Jewish people, or even to deprive them of their religion and way of life; they merely wished to Hellenize them — to “enlighten” their lives with the culture and philosophy of Greece. Keep your books of wisdom, they said to the Jew, keep your laws and customs, but enrich them with our wisdom, adorn them with our art, blend them into our lifestyle. Worship your G-d in your temple, but then worship the human body in the adjoining sports stadium we will build for you. Study your Torah but integrate it with the principles of our philosophy and the aesthetics of our literature.”
As we approach Chanukah, please consider these teachings by Rabbi Tauber. In doing so, also revisit the holiday prayer, “Al Hanissim.” Study carefully its text, its theme, and its message. Then, contrast it with Rabbi Tauber’s teachings. In doing so, you will arrive at better understanding of Chanukah’s theological message, and its spiritual holiness, a valued lesson for all Jews for all time.
For Your Continued Learning
I am pleased to bring to your attention the recent release of a new work published by the Orthodox Union entitled, “Coming Closer: Understanding and Experiencing Tefillah” by Rabbi Yisrael Shlomo Goldfinger, a musmach of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”l, and currently a member of the kollel of Yeshivat Ohr Hachaim in Queens.
The author describes his work as themed to unlocking the spiritual power of Jewish prayer by teaching how prayer, in an organized manner, foster a relationship between G-d and His people. The result, when read with great care, is to further enhance our appreciation of the structure of the prayer text and thus generate an intense mode of worship.
Another recent work, published by Toby Press, is “The Secret of Chabad,” by Rabbi David Eliezrie. Of timely interest to us at this time of year is the chapter entitled, “The Menorah Wars,” a 20 page historical narrative of the struggle many have had, all over the United States, with assimilated and misguided Jewish leaders who sought to ban the public display of menorahs in public venues. This is a very daunting episode in American Jewish history, and Rabbi Eliezrie has richly earned our commendation for a job very well done in exposing the perfidy of those who have for so long attempted to falsely claim governance of our interests in the public and political square.
Alan Gerber is a columnist for The Jewish Star.