Oil and Wine


Oil permeates the entire substance of a thing
Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 105:5

When wine enters, secret emerges
Talmud, Eiruvin 65a

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 the faint sizzle of candle wax. Its light does not burst through the door and bulldoze away the darkness; instead, it gently coaxes the gloom to shimmer with a spiritual luminescence.

Wine is a tabloid reporter. Wine is a boisterous brute who slithers past the security guard of mind to loosen the lips, spill the guts and turn the heart inside out. Wine smears the most intimate secrets across the front pages of life.

Chanukah is oil, Purim is wine.

Chanukah is the triumph of the Jewish soul. The Greek rulers of the Holy Land had no designs on the Jew’s body; it was the soul of Israel that they coveted, seeking to indoctrinate her mind with their philosophy and her spirit with their pagan culture. The Jew fought not for the freedom of his material self but to liberate his spiritual identity from Hellenist domination.

Haman and his cronies did not bother with such subtleties. They had one simple goal: the physical destruction of every Jew on the face of the earth. Purim remembers the salvation of the Jew’s bodily existence.

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.

On Purim we pour out the wine. Purim is a noisy party, a showy parade, a costumed extravaganza. Purim celebrates the fact that the Jew is more than a soul—he is a body as well. Purim celebrates the fact that our Jewishness is not only an internal spirituality but also a pragmatic reality; that it not only permeates our beings from within—it also spills out into the externalities of our material lives.

Based on an address by the Rebbe, Chanukah 5716 (1955)

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber

[3] Talmud, Shabbos 21a.

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