One of my fondest memories of being a student at Neveh, over 20 years ago, was Chanukah in Yeshiva. The parties at the Rebbi’s homes every night were always amazing and the spiritual feeling in the air was tangible for all eight days. But the real highLIGHT was getting to hear the Mash, Rabbi Blumenfeld, explain in his Sicha how Chanukah is the ultimate celebration of the “Soul of a Jew”. He told us how the two main miracles of Chanukah, the victory over Greek rule and the miracle of the oil, together create a theme that deems Chanukah as the holiday that showcases the unique Neshama of a Jew to the world.
Within the actual mitzvos and customs specific to Chanukah, we see the symbolism of the “Soul of the Jewish people” and the mindset that we are supposed to have during these days. For example, on Chanukah, we go public. Instead of adding light within our homes, as we do the rest of the year on Shabbos and other holidays, on Chanukah we shine the light outwards. The light symbolizes our Neshama, an aspect of who we are that is hidden, yet is the primary focus of our existence. It was the Neshama that the Greeks wanted to destroy and bury. They wanted us to focus on the physical and invest in the body, and to act as if the Neshama didn't exist at all. So on Chanukah we strive to reveal the Neshama by shining the light outwards to the world. The placement of the Menorah outside is our way of saying that the influence of the Jewish people on the world is here to stay and will not be extinguished. Chanukah is also known as the holiday of the Torah Sh’Baal Peh, the Oral Torah. Torah Sh’Baal Peh is likened to the Neshama of the Torah. It is the inner and hidden dimensions of the Torah that was passed down through Mesorah. It was this system of Mesorah that the Greeks specifically wished to obliterate. They didn’t burn Torah scrolls, instead they wanted to strip them of their significance and holiness by ending the lifeline of the Jewish people - the ongoing chain of the teaching of Torah. Spinning the dreidel and watching it turn continuously, almost as if it defies gravity, is our way of saying that we will defy the will of our enemies to destroy us and extinguish our Torah way of life. Instead, we will continue to thrive dramatically throughout the ages even against all odds.
Through lighting the menorah we recognize that the finding of the small jar of pure oil and the fact that it burned miraculously was the perfect “Kiss from Hashem” that was rewarded to us because we chose light over darkness, good over evil, spirituality over mundane, and the Neshama over the body. The small jar that was lost and then found is symbolic of the tiny spark of the Neshama that is always present and can never be extinguished, even when covered over and hidden by the physicality of the body. The oil within the jar that burned miraculously was a reminder to the us that a tiny bit of pure holiness can grow, influence, and diffuse a great deal of spiritual darkness around us. The flame of the wick always points upwards as does the hearts and minds of the Jewish people who are always focused on growing closer to Hashem. The natural traits of oil, such as the ability to never sink in water but rather always rise to the top, are symbolic to our resilience to always defiantly rise above. Similarly, just as oil doesn’t mix and blend with other liquids, as Jews we remain separate and unique even when faced with assimilation.
Today as we continue to celebrate Chanukah and light the Menorah, our hope is that just like the original oil that lasted miraculously for an extended time until new oil was brought , so too may the light of Chanukah shine for us until the time when the world will be filled with complete light - the light of Moshiach.
~ Rabbi Dani Zwick is a Rebbi in Lev Zion.