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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays Articles about Hanukkah

Post-Chanuka Thoughts

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This year I purchased ready filled jelled olive oil cups to use for the mitzvah of candle lighting. After all what could be nicer, prettier, more convenient and cleaner than such an arrangement? But sometimes even the best laid plans of rabbis go astray. The darn things simply did not work well. After the initial flame took hold, the fire soon died out. By intense playing around with the wicks I succeeded in most cases to have the flame restored though I was not universally successful in this endeavor. The joyous mitzvah of Chanuka candle lighting turned into a tension laden, frustrating, completely unrewarding experience because of these olive oil cups which were supposed to be spill proof and fail proof. I was hardly comforted by the fact that it seems that almost everyone who purchased this particular brand of jellied olive oil cups for Chanuka lighting was also experiencing the same difficulties and frustrations. And it was not that these cups were sold at any bargain price! It was as though Chanuka was crimped greatly because of these olive oil cups. Of course, I could have used candles but I wanted to avoid the inevitable cleanup of the wax mess. I am convinced by many years of personal experience that there is no such creature on the planet as dripless Chanuka candles. And anyway I always prefer the use of olive oil as the fuel for my Chanuka lights. Hence, my stubbornness to continue to use these olive oil cups night after frustrating Chanuka night.

But there was a ray of light emanating from all of this frustration - this brilliant article emerged from the dark recesses of my brain. By painful and exacting scientific research I discovered that the fault with the oil cups lay not with the oil but rather with the wicks. They just don’t draw the oil very well. And no matter how perfect the oil may be, poor wicks will frustrate lighting the holy lights every time. I think that is somewhat true of our current Jewish society as well. We possess an almost inexhaustible supply of great oil - Torah knowledge, scholars, talent and numbers. But most of it somehow never sees the light of day. There are not enough efficient wicks - teachers, rabbis, heroes, leaders - that are willing and able to extract the oil and transform it into lights to guide and illuminate us. Leadership cannot be taught but it certainly can be nurtured and encouraged. There has to be incentive not only to fill the cup of oil and gain great Torah knowledge for one’s self but also as importantly to become a wick and spread the light of Torah to a people mainly ignorant of its heritage and glorious past and demanding destiny. And to do so young scholars and potential leaders have to be willing to seemingly sacrifice some of their own schedules and spiritual comforts in order to serve the God and people of Israel. Concern for the spiritual welfare of other Jews is a supreme value that must be reinforced at every level of our educational system. "If I am only for myself, then what am I?" Hillel was interested not only in the oil but in the wicks as well.

The commentators point out that the miracle of the Chanuka lights in the Temple was a later replay of the miracle of Elisha with the widow of the prophet Ovadia. There Elisha told her to amass vessels - unlimited in amount - in order to start the oil pouring from the small flask of oil that she had in her house. He told her not to be stingy or cautious about the number of vessels that she acquired. She did so, at least to her mind and satisfaction, borrowing great numbers of vessels from her neighbors and friends and miraculously the small flask of oil was able to fill all of the vessels that she had on hand. Excitedly, she watched the oil that would save her and her family from poverty and servitude pour into the vessels. When she asked for more vessels to fill with the oil, her children told her that there were no more vessels. Immediately the oil stopped flowing. There is no shortage of miraculous oil that the Jewish people possess. It only lacks vessels, wicks that contain the oil and bring light and radiance to others. This is also a frustrating task, convincing people of the necessary altruism to help others also have some oil and spiritual light in their lives. But I think that this is part of the lesson that the Hasmoneans intended to impart to us. May the recently departed lights of Chanuka continue to illuminate our path in goodness and health.
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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