A beautiful understanding of Chanukah from Rabbi Yehoshua Schechter
Rashi tells us that when Aharon the Priest, saw that he wasn’t a part of the roster of the princes at the Dedication of the Tabernacle, he experienced a “weakening of spirit” of sorts. The commentaries tell us, this was because Aharon perceived it as a sign, that although G-d forgave him for his partaking in the sin of the Golden Calf, ultimately he wasn’t reinstated to his former stature. Acknowledging Aharon’s disconcertment, Hashem reassures him, telling him that he has better job instead: to prepare and light the Menorah, using only pure first-pressed olive oil, and that lighting it is “even greater” than what the princes did.
What was so special about the Menorah, and in lighting it that was so special? Furthermore, why the over-emphasis regarding its purity? We don’t find such elaboration with any other Temple service.
The Rambam explains that Aharon’s task was greater, because it didn’t just refer to the Menora lighting for that time, but to all the Chanukah menorahs that Jews of all stripes would be lighting throughout the dark nights of the galut – exile.
Apparently there was something about the future lighting of the Chanukah Menorah that was reassuring to Aharon’s “weakening of spirit”. What was it?
Aharon on his high level felt his participation in the Golden Calf caused a distance – a rift from Hashem. He had fallen into a gap that he felt might be unbridgeable.
About a thousand years later, when the ragged little contingent of faithful Jews finally made it back to the Temple at the time of our Chanukah story, all they saw around them was tremendous desecration. They knew that the damage done to the Temple was a reflection of their own distance from Hashem. What did it say about their own spiritual standing, if everywhere they looked all they saw was desecration, contamination and profanity? Maybe this was a sign that they too were unsalvageable, and therefore, why would Hashem be interested in their service?
Distance does that to a person. It fills him with self-hatred, makes him despondent and depressed. The reaction often is to give up and give in. I am what I am, and there is no way to change.
The Greek exile is compared to a leopard; whose defining characteristic is azut (brazenness).The Maharal explains that there was brazenness in Alexander’s desire to spread his worldview everywhere. It wasn’t just about being bigger, better, and stronger, it was more about saying: I know best and everyone is entitled to my opinion.
That brazenness, like every other negative trait has its pure counterpart, which is called azut d’kedusha or (holy brazenness). What is that? Imagine a boss who fires his worker, relents and rehires him. But, he puts him in a smaller office in the back corner, rather than the spacious one he previously occupied in the front. Imagine that instead of the worker being grateful that he got his job back, he announces that he won’t start working again until he gets his old office back as well! There’s a word for this, it’s called Chutzpah! We Jews understand this word pretty well.
In truth, given the context of the event, it wasn’t necessary for the oil to be pure. In times of war when dead bodies are scattered everywhere, as they were around the Temple, certain levels of purity are waived. They could have used regular oil. But these Jews were determined to come back to Hashem through the front door and reoccupy the front office, nothing less. They insisted on pure oil only, even though there was only enough for one day, and they wouldn’t have any for tomorrow. They wanted the same pure unadulterated oil that Aharon their forefather used to light his Menorah. They had Holy Chutzpah! But how would Hashem react to this bedraggled and battered little army, wanting to set up camp in their former front office – brazenly pushing aside any feeling of non-worthiness?
The Jews waited breathlessly: two days, three days, four, five, six, seven, and eight! The eighth day of Chanukah is called “Zot Chanukah” (this is Chanukah). A deeper reason for this, is it was only on the eighth day that the message of Chanukah really came to light, (pun intended).
Hashem let that little flask of oil burn for eight days for they needed eight days to acquire pure oil again. It was then and only then, that the Jews knew that they had been reinstated to their former standing. Happy Chanukah!