One of the many fascinating questions about the holiday of Chanukah is why Chazal (the Sages of the Talmud) placed so much emphasis on the episode of the flask of pure oil being discovered and used to light the Menorah in the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) when the Jews at that time would have been allowed to use impure oil if pure oil was unavailable. There are many answers to this question, but I would like to share an answer with you that, to my mind, truly expresses what Jewish education is all about.
In many early Rabbinic texts the light of the Temple Menorah symbolizes the blessing of intellect and knowledge that G-d gives us to understand the world and the Torah. According to this approach, the Jews of the Chanukah story committed themselves to use only pure oil as a way of sending an eternal message that the teachings of the Torah must always be kept pure and unadulterated. This was particularly true during that period of massive assimilation and Hellenization. The Talmudic Sages focused on this relatively minor point of the story in order to demonstrate the vital importance of ensuring the clear, uncompromising transmission of Jewish values and traditions from each generation to the next.
It’s amazing to consider that we are living approximately 3,500 years after Kabbalat Hatorah (the Receiving of the Torah on Mt Sinai) and almost 2,200 years after the Chanukah story. It is even more astounding to consider that after all those years we remain committed to the teachings of the Torah and dedicated to passing those teachings down to our children and grandchildren in a way that is as pure and clear as when they were first given to our ancestors. May Hashem find us worthy of this monumental, sacred task and bless us with unlimited success!
Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach!
Rabbi Zvi Kahn
Head of School