Hasidim say, one year when lighting the first candle of Hanukkah with Rabbi Baruch from Mez'ibose' (the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov), his students saw that the flame jumped and disappeared from the candle, with no signs of smoke as there is usually as a candle burns out. Rabbi Baruch calmed them, and said that the flame went to fulfill its mission and will return later to the candle.
Everyone sat around the table, learned Torah, sang and praised the miracles and wonders of Hanukkah. And then at midnight, the flame came back. Rabbi Baruch said to those present, that soon a person will come and tell the story of this flame. Indeed, after a short time, they heard horse hooves approaching, and immediately one of the important Hasidim came into the room. After resting slightly, he told this story:
You all know, that in the nearby woods they are many robbers and wild beasts, and it is very dangerous to cross at night. Last night, I came to this forest, and since I wanted to be with you, I was very tempted to go cross the forest at night. And then, suddenly, a group of bandits attacked me and took me to their lair. The robbers were sure they got hold of a lot of money since only a wealthy merchant hurrying to an important mission will take the risk and go through the woods at night.
Much to their disappointment, they did not find much money in the carriage and clothes, and their leader, decided to interrogate me prior to the execution. To his questions about the purpose of my trip I replied I was coming to the Rebbe, and I described to him the spiritual virtues here. The investigation continued for that whole day.
Then, tonight as Hanukkah was starting, the leader said - "listen, your words about the Rebbe impressed me. I'm willing to make a deal. My men will let you loose in one of the most dangerous places of the forest. There is no chance to get out of there alive. If the power of your Rebbe is so great and you are saved, throw your scarf at the curve at the entrance to the city. My men will come and collect it, and then we will do repentance - Teshuva."
I started off in the dark. Soon, there were many roars of wild beasts. The horse stopped in fear, and it was seconds between us and death. And then, suddenly, a little flame flickered in front of us and showed us the way. The horse started to walk towards it, and the wild animals stayed on the side of the path. The flames seemed so close, but every time we approached it, it pulled away. So we walked towards it again and again, until I found myself safely out of the woods. I left my scarf at the curve and came here.
This story contains a deep Hanukkah idea. Hanukkah occurs during the dark days of the year. The nights are long, and the days are cloudy with little sun. Even the historical period when the Hanukkah miracles happened is called the "Dark Time", as it says in Bereshit Rabbah : "and darkness was upon the face of the deep" - this refers to the Greeks.
During the First and the beginning of the Second Temple, the Jewish nation had prophecy. Prophecy, and additional revelation of G-d, like the oracle, illuminate Israel. God instructed Israel in a clear way what we should do. But during the early days of the Greek Empire, prophecy was lost and darkness came to the world. Since then, we no longer have a clear vision of what we must do.
In reality, the Hasmonean wars were naturally directed, and the miracles on the battlefield were hidden. Darkness. Yet in the midst of the darkness G-d made one open miracle in the Temple - the miracle of the oil. Light. A visible supervision. God said to Israel - mind you, even when you are in the dark, with all the wars and in all of the distant places, I am with you. I did not disappear, I am hidden, but yet lead the world.
More than that - the physical war was an expression of the spiritual struggle. In those days, the people of Israel were in a real spiritual struggle. Prophecy was gone and there was only the wisdom of the Torah, which was in conflict with the Greek philosophical wisdom. People asked themselves - what is the difference between the two? What advantage is in Torah compared to philosophy?
The difference is the Torah comes from a divine source. When a Jew sits and learns Torah, the Divine Presence is with him, and God's word (not people words) are revealed to him through the Torah. Studying the Oral Torah study is a continuation of prophecy. The Hasmonean victory symbolizes the victory of the spirit and wisdom of Israel, our Torah.
At the depth of darkness we find the light. Indeed, G-d intentionally placed us in a long period of the darkness. Sometimes, in the light when you see "everything", one might miss some details. In the dark, a person lights a candle, illuminating small areas at a time. Detail by detail, gradually after hard work, a complete and precise picture is seen. Thus, while there was Prophecy (a period of light) , the Jewish leaders spoke of great morals, but Israel fell and sinned in the ‘small’ details of Jewish law. In contrast, Hanukkah begins in the time of Mishna, Gemara and halacha, as we illuminated detail after detail in halacha. But we didn’t develop only the world of Torah, in addition - during the days of darkness and exile, the Jewish nation managed to gradually increase and spread around the world the light of morality. We took the Torah with us into Galut and changed Western civilization (partially, at the moment).
Back to the story with which we opened, the Hasid came into the forest - the dark days of exile. There, the bandits, Gentiles, attack him, and he is in danger of death. But a little light from the Beit Midrash - the Temple was sent to illuminate his way. Every time we get closer to the candle it goes away, and we walk scene after scene, illuminating detail after detail, until we come to redemption, bringing repentance to the Gentiles on our way.