Allow Hanukkah to refine inner strength

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Levy Pekar
  • 99th Air Base Wing Chapel

Hanukkah, a holiday most known for candles, doughnuts and rebellions, is a time when Jews celebrate vanquishing their enemies, rebuilding their temple and, most importantly, kindling the Menorah.


The Menorah was a seven branched Candelabra made of pure gold situated at the entrance of the ancient Jewish temple. It was lit every day at dusk and seen glowing throughout the city of Jerusalem.  Only fresh olive oil of the purest quality was burned to light its lamps. The Menorah was the original symbol of Judaism, and represented the message and pride of Judaism.


The Maccabean revolt against the Greeks culminated in the reclamation of the Jewish people’s temple. They waited anxiously for the opportunity to light the Menorah as a sign of pride and connection to God; however, they were dismayed to find that the Greeks had destroyed almost all of the flasks containing the pure olive oil needed to light the Menorah. One flask was finally found hidden away with the seal still intact, but it only had enough oil to light the Menorah for a day. Once this flask was used, it would take another week for the Jews to obtain new olive oil to light their beloved Menorah. They lit the Menorah with what they had and, miraculously, the oil that should have lasted a day burned for eight days.


This is the miracle of Hanukkah and the reason Jews have celebrated this holiday for more than 2,200 years.


Throughout the centuries, Jewish sages and mystics discuss and expound on the miracle of the oil. Taking a deeper look at the source of the miracle, the oil, a seemingly simple question can be asked: Why not just use different oil or candles for the days they wouldn’t have had oil?


Obtaining the pure olive oil for the Menorah was an extremely difficult process. To create the perfect oil, the olive needed to be crushed. Only the very first drop of each olive was collected and designated to be used for the temple. For the Menorah to shine for the city of Jerusalem to see, it had to be lit with oil that could only be attained by hard work and extraction from utterly crushed olives.


The oil obtaining process and the resulting bright, pure and powerful flame of the Menorah is a yearly message and an instruction to each person lighting candles on Hanukkah. Often, people struggle with seeing the good in their lives, or the “silver lining” of daily struggles. We often think to ourselves that we are being crushed under the weight of responsibility and life stressors. Hanukkah comes to teach us that while the pain is real, unpleasant and difficult, we need to remember that the purest and brightest oil can only be extracted from being crushed; struggles and challenges will extract our best, refining us to be the strongest and most resilient versions of ourselves.


Hanukkah is the holiday when we recognize our ability to overcome challenges, when we pray for strength and to find hope within.