Chanukah: Finding the Oil
One of the most widely-known miracle of the Chanukah story involves the
finding of the flask of pure oil. When the Jews returned to the Temple it
appeared that all of the sealed containers of pure olive oil had been
contaminated by the Syrian-Greeks and there was none left with which to
light the Menorah. By Divine Providence a single sealed flask of oil was
found and this miraculously fueled the lamps of the Menorah for seven days
while more oil was prepared.
From the description of the Temple given in Tractate Middos (the
tractate dedicated to recording the measurements of the Temple) we learn
that the main storage area for oil was located in the southwest chamber of
the Women's Courtyard – the Chamber of the Oil. Certainly all of the
containers in this chamber would have been defiled, and it is more likely
that the flask was found somewhere else. Here I present two opinions given
by the commentators as to where this flask may have been found.
1. In the Sanctuary
The Talmud states that "when the Greeks entered the Sanctuary they defiled
all of the oil in the Sanctuary." From here we learn that oil was stored in
the Sanctuary as well. There were thirty-eight cells, or small rooms, built
around three sides of the Sanctuary and the special olive oil used for the
Menorah may have been stored here.
|The Sanctuary. Area of the|
small rooms is highlighted.
Some maintain that the flask of oil of the Chanukah story was found in the
Sanctuary. There was a room in the Sanctuary (possibly one of the cells) or,
according to a slightly different version, a niche in the wall, which was
closed off by a door and sealed with the seal of the High Priest. This area
had somehow escaped the notice of the Syrian-Greeks and when it was later
opened by the Jews it was found to contain a single flask of olive oil.
According to this view, it was not the flask itself which was sealed with
the seal of the High Priest but rather the area in which it was found.
2. Beneath the Altar
|Southwest corner of the
At the southwest corner of the Altar's top were two receptacles where the
wine and water libations were poured. The libations flowed down through the
Altar into a deep subterranean cavity called the Shissin. Once every
seventy years the Kohanim would enter the Shissin through an
access hole in the Courtyard floor in order to empty it of the congealed
wine. One opinion maintains that the sealed flask of oil was found within
the Shissin, apparently hidden there by a quick-thinking Kohen
before the Temple was taken. As for why the Jews were exploring the
Shissin at this time, the Altar was in the process of being rebuilt
and it is therefore likely that they stumbled upon this flask of oil as they
were removing the old stones from the lowest level of the Altar.