Chanukah and Oil

Zalmy Muskal
3 min readDec 11, 2020


Since tonight is the 1st night of Chanukah I thought I would share something about this Jewish holiday.

A quick rundown of what Chanukah is about.
In the second century BCE, Israel was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks). They tried to force the Jews to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of observing Judaism and believing in God. A small band of Jews who called themselves the Maccabees rose up against them. Led by Judah the Chashmonite (who was the son of the high priest) they fought and defeated the Greeks. They did this despite the Jews being poorly armed and the Greeks having one of the mightiest armies at the time. After driving the Greeks out, they reclaimed the Holy Temple and rededicated it to the service of God.
The Hebrew word Chanukah is derived from 2 words; chanu meaning ‘they rededicated’ and the word Kah meaning “on the 25th” (the Hebrew date the war ended).

When the war ended the Jews entered the Holy Temple in Jerusalem hoping to rekindle the Menorah as part of Jewish rite. Yet, alas, they only found one cruse of oil that was meant for a single day. It would take another 7 days to get more.

Using the same ethos that they used during the war; namely, to do whatever was humanly possible and leave the rest up to the Divine, they kindled the Menorah expecting it to last but one day. G-d made a miracle and the oil burned for the entire 8 days until fresh oil could be brought.

Since that time, almost 2,000 years ago the Jews have been lighting the Chanukah Menorah to remember and celebrate these miracles. Yet, the Menorah has become a symbol for the entire world. Regardless of religious belief or affiliation, the Menorah has become the beacon of freedom for all. The symbol of the light shining and overcoming darkness, the symbol of an oppressed few overcoming the masses in the name of what they believe in. All of these are represented by the Menorah and her light.

The fact that the miracle transpired via oil seems almost superfluous. Yet, we find that oil has properties that are not found in many (or most) items, even various liquids. Oil has the propensity to stick to whatever it touches whilst still adhering to the original container. Once something comes in contact with oil it remains and affects that item until actively removed (many times a difficult task in its own right). Another property that oil has is that it permeates. Whenever oil is placed on an item it seeks to enter and become part of that item.

All of these attributes just seem to strengthen the lesson above; namely, that freedom, once tasted, spreads and enters the very souls of those that have been ignited by its capacity and transforms them.

One personal note to add: Sitting in front of a screen and working with numbers that are represented by just a 1 and a 0 might bring a person to feel “what kind of contributions can I really make with just such a small action?” Yet, by being determined to kindle just one small cruse of oil a national holiday was established that shines a beacon for the entire world, should remind us that no action is too small to set the world on a better course. Happy coding!