Ahhh… it’s Chanukah time again! Yes, it’s true, that here in North America Chanukah doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of Christmas, but I still love the whole celebration and festivities. That, and if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to celebrate Chanukah in Israel – Let me tell you, they do it up right! The stores are blasting songs (yes, there are more songs than just the Adam Sandler ones) and having tons of blue and silver tinsel everywhere! And the latkes? The sufganiot (jelly donuts)? Every kind and flavour you can imagine! So what do those two things have in common? (Besides being delicious of course) Oil! Here is one holiday where you are supposed to keep pouring it on! Some may ask why, though, again, other than being delicious.
Most of us are familiar with the miracle of the oil— that one day’s supply of oil lasted for eight days. And we know this is the origin of the mitzvah to light the menorah for eight days. It is also the reason why we have the custom of eating foods cooked in oil. But there are some deeper connections between olive oil and Chanukah.
Mystically, both the menorah and the oil used to light it are associated with Chochmah, wisdom. The war between the Greeks and the Jews was also a war over whose wisdom would endure. The Greeks wanted everyone under their rule to think and study exactly as they did. They were violently opposed to the idea of G‑dly wisdom, and so forbade the study of Torah. Also, the word shemen, Hebrew for oil, contains the same letters as shemoneh, eight, the number of days that the miracle of the oil lasted.
So there you go, you’ve got the miracle and the mysticism, two great reasons to fry up some latkes! And yes, the third reason still stands… They’re DELICIOUS!
*photo credit from discoverjcc.com. For more about your local JCC (Jewish Community Centre) click here.