Every Jewish holiday has deep spiritual meaning. Hanukkah is no exception. On Hanukkah, we celebrate the miracle that happened to the Maccabees, who defeated the mighty Seleucid Empire and its allies, the Hellenistic Jews. After their victory, they cleaned the plundered Temple and found just enough oil to light the menorah for one day. But lo and behold, the oil lasted eight days. By then the Maccabees had procured more oil and the candles on the menorah could keep burning.
However, in all the festivities, we overlook a very important message in the holiday. The candles on the menorah symbolize our struggle with our egos, our hatred of others. The burning of the candle symbolizes our triumph in using even our most depraved desires for the benefit of others.
Traditionally, a candle consists of three elements: 1) the oil, which serves as fuel, 2) the wick, the thread that is dipped into the oil and carries it to the edge of the wick, and 3) the fire, which uses both the wick and the oil (mainly the latter) to burn. RABASH, my teacher, explains that the oil is a pool of bad thoughts and intentions toward others. The wick is a single thought or intention emerging from that pool. The miracle happens when we determine that we do not want to follow our corrupt intentions, but rather develop love for others.
If we succeed, it is regarded as lighting the flame, and this is considered a miracle. The flame needs a constant supply of bad thoughts or it will have no thoughts to “burn,” to rise above, so bad thoughts are necessary. However, given the extent of our self-absorption, it really does take a miracle to rise above our wickedness and turn it into good thoughts about others.
It is an even greater miracle when this transformation occurs not in a single person, but in an entire nation. The people of Israel established their nationhood precisely by performing this miracle when they pledged to love one another as themselves.
Today we need an even greater miracle. With the whole world interconnected and all the nations engaged in constant power struggles, the miracle we need is for the whole world to rise above hatred and suspicion and use them as fuel, as oil, to light the flame of love.
The chronicles of the Jewish people are not stories about people who lived in ancient times; they are lessons for humanity. The Jewish nation formed from people who came from all over the ancient world, so it is only natural that their annals should pertain not only to themselves, but above all to their original nations.
The union that our ancestors achieved was a “pilot” for a program that the whole world must implement today. The more we shun the idea of rising above hatred and wallow in our mutual odium, the more shaken we will be when we finally realize that we have no choice but to change our attitude toward others, just as our ancestors did back then.