The Temple was in ruins, everything overturned and damaged. To continue operating the Temple required a thorough cleaning and organizing. That was done, aesthetics were taken care of. But materials were short. The pure oil with which the menorah was to be lit, the fuel that fed the flames bringing light to the nation, had been defiled by the invaders. The battle-weary survivors searched and found, but they found just one untouched flask of oil, enough for only one day. They lit the menorah that evening and the flames continued burning for eight days, until fresh oil was procured. Each year we celebrate Chanukah for eight days to commemorate that miracle.
But the story is a living story. It happened more than 2150 years ago, but it repeated itself time and again in our history. Over and over attempts were made to extinguish the flame of Israel, to get rid of this thorn in the side of the world, this people who always showed up, who could not be stamped out. How many times has the nation of Israel been on the verge of annihilation, how many times did our existence look like a write-off? Not the Temple, but Jewish infrastructure lay in ruins, smoke rising from the ashes of synagogues and homes. Not oil, but the leadership, scholars and simple residents of Jewish communities, from small villages to large cities, were led away in chains or murdered on the spot. The jars of pure oil lie shattered on the cold stone ground, the rich fluid defiled and contaminated. But there is always one flask remaining somewhere. Inevitably a few drops of oil, a small cadre of Jews, kept the spirit of the nation alive, preserving the tradition and slowly fanning the ember back into a flame. The few hardly seem enough to restore the tradition, to rebuild the people, but somehow the flame is coaxed back from the ashes. Somehow it lasts as long as it needs to, always recovering, always returning the light to the world.
But we cannot forget the myriad jars cast aside, spoiled and defiled, lost and forlorn. The miracle of Chanukah, the miracle that repeats itself in nearly every generation, ensures that the nation survives, that the Menorah is replenished. But how many jugs lie broken, their rich contents spilling out to waste!?
When their ability to live according to their traditions was placed under threat the Maccabees cried “gather to us, all those loyal to God.” That clarion call was answered by the faithful, by the few who carried within themselves the pure oil. This summons was the same summons of Moses at Mt. Sinai, asking for commitment. The entire nation at that time answered the call, committing themselves and their progeny. In every generation we are given the opportunity to answer this call, fulfilling our commitment and renewing our dedication. How many of us respond? It never appears to be enough, but Chanukah teaches us that even a small effort can go a long way. To be that person, to answer the call and serve as the oil that continues to fuel the existence of Israel, is the challenge of every Jew.
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