Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on December 21, 2022 (5783) By Rabbi Pinchas Winston | Series: | Level:

Friday Night

Shemen zayis—olive oil—and the Jewish people go back a long way, even to before there was a Jewish nation. Before Ya’akov was even married, he anointed a monument he had built after waking up from his dream of the ladder.

Where did Ya’akov get the oil from, especially since Eliphaz had robbed him along his way? He just “happened” to find the oil in a jar attached to a rock the next morning, The Yalkut Reuveini (Vayishlach) says. Apparently it had been set aside for that historic moment ever since Creation. And when the oil replenished itself, Ya’akov realized it was special and took it with him…all through history. Every miracle that happened with shemen zayis in Tanach, the Midrash says, began with Ya’akov’s jar of oil.

And if God told Ya’akov that his mesiras Nefesh for a small jar of oil the night he fought with the angel earned the future Chashmonaim the merit to find theirs, would it not be safe to say that they were one and the same jar? After all, it was a miracle that the Greeks hadn’t found that one jar of oil and defiled it, and that it burned for seven extra days. Where’s the leap in that one?

Though technically other oils can be used to light the Ner Shel Chanukah, shemen zayis is preferred (Shabbos 22b). It was what was used in the Temple, and therefore the oil with which the miracle occurred. But why was shemen zayis specifically used in the Temple in the first place, for the Menorah and the sacrifices? What unique property does shemen zayis have that distinguishes it spiritually from all other oils?

Maybe it is the olive itself. The dove returned to Noach, who found chayn, the root of Chanukah, in God’s eyes, with an olive branch. The Midrash says:

How are the Jewish people like the dove? When Noach was in the ark, the dove came to him with an olive leaf. God said, “Just as the dove brought light to the world, so too will you bring olive oil and light it before Me.” (Tanchuma, Tetzaveh 5)

Okay, but what is the connection? And which light did the yonah bring to the world? It’s not as if he lit anything he brought back, right? Right. However, he did have an enlightening message for mankind that had everything to do with the olive branch he brought back. The dove said:

Rather my food be bitter as an olive from the hand of God, than sweet as honey from the hand of man. (Rashi, Bereishis 8:10)


Shabbos Day

THERE ARE SOME people who like to say surprising things but in a casual way. That something could be so shocking to us and seemingly not to them, adds to the “joke.” But you can be sure that when the Midrash does it, it is not to be funny or simply shocking. It is to make you think more deeply.

The Tanchuma above was one example of this. This is another:

He waited another seven days and again sent the dove from the ark. Then, toward the evening, the dove returned to him carrying a plucked olive leaf in its mouth. (Bereishis 8:10)

God said, “The olive brought light to the world,” as it says, “Then, toward the evening, the dove returned to him carrying a plucked olive leaf in its mouth.” (Vayikra Rabbah 31:10)

He waited another seven days and again sent the dove… (Bereishis 8:10)

Into the exile of the Greeks, who blackened the faces of the Jews. Had not God enlightened the wise to light the candles with shemen zayis, the “survivors of Yehudah” would have been lost forever…From the moment the leaf was torn off in her mouth, twenty-five dwelled upon the Jewish people—the 25 of Kislev. (Tikunei Zohar 13)

Firstly, how did the olive bring light to the world? Secondly, what did that light have to do with Noach’s dove and its land finding mission? Thirdly, even though the Jewish people are compared to the dove, how can the dove’s journey be compared to the exile the Jewish people suffered under Greek rule? And finally, what does any of this have to do with Chanukah long before there was a Jewish or Greek people?

The starting point of any discussion like this is two words: Tikun Olam—World Rectification. There is nothing else. People may think there is and act as if there is, but there really isn’t. “If it aint broke, don’t fix it.” But if it is, and the world is definitely broken and has been since Creation, then you better do everything in your power to fix it, because that is your only true purpose in life. Everything else we do and experience is just part of our personal means to contribute to Tikun Olam.

But like any technician, you need both skill and the correct tools to properly fix what is broken. No sense using a screwdriver to fix what a hammer is meant to do, or vice versa. If you do, you can end up doing more damage than what you came to fix, just as Adam HaRishon did when he ate from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Ra, Noach did when he got drunk after leaving the ark, and Yosef’s brothers did when they sold him into slavery.

Even Yosef slipped up and spent two “extra” years in jail, when he asked the wine steward for help getting him out. It wasn’t so much what he did but when he did it. Many would call what Yosef did hishstadalus, making a reasonable effort, and find no fault in it. But then again, the same could be said about Nadav and Avihu on the day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, when they brought their unauthorized fire and died for it instead.

Seudas Shlishis

PURIM AND CHANUKAH. One holiday celebrates the miracle of the wine and the other, the miracle of the oil. If Achashveros had not gotten drunk, he wouldn’t have killed Vashti and opened the door to Esther and the Purim miracle. If not for the shemen zayis, the military victory would not have been the basis for a holiday.

But they are miracles that unfolded in opposite ways, indicated by the grager and the dreidel. The grager is spun from below to cause the top to spin above, just like Mordechai initiated the redemption process and Heaven backed him up. The dreidel is spun from on top to make the bottom spin below, just as God drew Mattisyahu into the redemption picture. Purim celebrates our ability to lead Heaven, and Chanukah celebrates our ability to follow it. Those are our two tools of the rectification trade.

Everything goes right when we use the right tool at the right time. Mordechai against Haman. Mattisyahu against the Greeks. It all goes wrong when we don’t. Adam eating from the Aitz HaDa’s. Noach getting drunk. The brothers selling Yosef. Yosef asking the wine steward to remember him. They were all people in Purim mode at the time to be in Chanukah mode.

The truth is, the holidays and modes are not equal. Purim occurred earlier in history when there were still prophets. It came at a time when even the bad guys believed that the Jewish God existed. It ended after the first exile into Babylonia, and could have and should have been the final redemption. It just wasn’t.

Not Chanukah though. It came along much later in history, long after the era of prophecy. By that time, even many of the “good guys” didn’t believe in the Jewish God. And it could not have been the final redemption because it was barely a partial one. If anything, Chanukah became necessary as a means to reach the level of Purim, just as Purim came along to help us better access the freedom of Pesach. Just as you have to go through Moshiach Ben Yosef to get to Moshiach Ben Dovid, you have to get Chanukah right in order to access the light of Purim.

Ain Od Milvado, Part 31.

ONE OF THE trickiest questions to answer is, “Am I putting too much effort into success, or relying too much on God to make it happen?” If a person puts in too much effort, it is a violation of trust in God. If a person is putting in too little effort, it is relying upon a miracle, which we’re not supposed to do (Shabbos 32a).

The Leshem has two pieces of advice. The first is, don’t rely on yourself for the answer. Ask someone more objective, preferably someone who understands such matters, the more deeply, the better. How many people thought they had a handle on a situation only to realize later that they didn’t? In our world, it is very easy to mistake good for bad and bad for good.

The second piece of advice? Ask God for mercy. Ask Him to help you get it right because, as the Gemora says, if He doesn’t help us against our yetzer hara we don’t stand a chance (Kiddushin 30b). It’s not a sign of weakness to turn to God. It’s a sign of strength, because it means putting truth before pride, and only a person of strong character can do that.

The Gemora also says that everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven (Brochos 33b). This means that the only thing we can actually succeed or fail at is our level of fear God. The rest is up to God and His plans for history and us. It also says that anyone who has chayn, the root of Chanukah, is sure to have such fear of God (Succah 49b).

Having said that, then maybe it is important to focus not only on the shemen zayis, but on the container holding it. The olive is hard and bitter, and yet it contains glorious and illuminating light. The clay jar that held the shemen zayis is like our bodies that contain our souls: lowly, but miraculously holding a light so brilliant it should really obliterate what contains it.

This is why Chanukah, unlike Purim, is so passive. But we’re not doing nothing. On the contrary, we’re doing the most important thing of all, becoming containers for the light of God. This is not something that takes place in the outside world, but in our inside world. It is the result of removing as much selfishness as we can, which is automatically replaced with fear of God. This gives a person the chayn that saved Noach and Yosef from disaster.

Once we have mastered that, then we can talk about moving into Purim mode. May we become such containers for the Ohr HaGanuz this Chanukah, and illuminate the world with our own special lights.

Chanukah Samayach,

Pinchas Winston