Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
“Ask the Rabbi” by Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, DATA Rosh HaKollel, is posted on DOJLife.com with the permission of the Texas Jewish Post.
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Ask the Rabbi: The Oil Menorah. By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
Why are some people particular to light Chanukah lights with oil? If someone lights with oil, how long does it need to stay lit?
The reason many light with oil is twofold. Firstly, the Chanukah lights are kindled in order to remember the miracles which occurred at the time of the Maccabees, during the Greek persecution. One of those miracles was that after retaking the Temple, following a battle with the Greeks, the Maccabees sought to rekindle the menorah. They could find only one flask of pure, undefiled oil sufficient for one day, and the nearest source of olives to squeeze new oil was four days away, an eight-day round trip. Miraculously, the oil stayed lit for all eight days until new oil was brought. This signified that G‑d’s presence had returned to the Temple, a cause for great celebration.
In order to remember that oil through which the miracle occurred, the rabbis enacted that ideally one lights with oil.
There’s a deeper reason as well. The number eight, or shemonah in Judaism, signifies transcending the physical world and entering the spiritual. The Kabbalists explain that seven represents the physical world: seven days of the week, seven musical chords, seven Noahide laws for the Gentiles. Through Torah we transcend this and enter the world of shemonah, from where we’re endowed with the ability to see right through the physical shell or mask of the world, and unwrap its hidden spiritual meaning.
Oil, in Hebrew, is shemen, which is the root of the word shemonah, or eight. The oil is hidden within the olive until we press it out, revealing a fire within. The shemen is the “olive’s shemonah,” transcending the surface and unlocking the illumination. The Temple menorah was lit daily with olive oil, as that menorah represented the fire of the Torah which is the hidden illumination of the world. The Chanukah miracle of eight/shemonah showed us and the world that even during dark times of decrees against the Torah, the fire of Torah shines brightly for those who seek it where it is hidden. This enables us to transcend the apparent, dark situation. This is much like the way a plane transcends the dark, gloomy weather, bursting through the clouds and encountering the bright sunshine on the other side.
Hence, the Rabbis enacted to light Chanukah lights at night, unlike most mitzvot, because this light represents the presence of the light despite the darkness of Diaspora and exile.
The minimum amount of oil needed to provide is for the lights to remain lit for a half-hour after nightfall. Although not as ideal, one fulfills the mitzvah with candles as well, since they also provide light and remind us of the miracle when lit over the eight days.
A bright and joyous Chanukah to you and all the readers.