I pluck an olive from the branch, and rest it between my fingers. In one swift motion my fist clamps down on the olive, squeezing and crushing with relentless strength, not resting until… the sign of a drop appears. Trying to tug its way back into the fruit, I apply more pressure, my nails curling deeper into my fists, and the first drops are forced through. I toss the olive into a basket, laid to waste, and continue to the next. Why was the olive oil used for the Bait Hamikdash not allowed to be filtered? Why were they collected in a basket, until the oil flowed on its own? It almost seems cruel for the olives to have been hand crushed for this purpose as well… or oh so personal.
Moshe had a similar scenario when fashioning the vessels for the Mishkan – he couldn’t possibly understand how to build the Menorah. The Menorah that represented the establishment of the Jewish people for an infinite amount of time… but how could this nation survive after the great suffering he had seen as their destiny? Hashem Himself then selected gold to be thrown into fire, where through the sweltering pressure and heat of the furnace, He was able to personally fashioned a piece that would be stronger and better forever. Oh so personal.
How could we hold ourselves back from kindling what was personalized for us, fashioned by the Creator of the world Himself? Through grit and sheer determination, we turned over piles of filth, and checked every crevice, to find nothing. We had jugs saved up for this purpose, there must be one left. But only one. That never ending pursuit of light is what leads me here today, over 2,000 years later, sitting in front of a window watching flames silently with such a precision reaching upwards, for the whole world to see. To see how even after we had been beaten, bruised, tossed, and humiliated, that period of darkness we were forced into experiencing had a purpose, and still has a purpose.
There’s so much more to the olive than meets the eye. It was the first sign of growth brought back to the Ark following the cleansing of the world. Edible olives can only exist on the roots of the tree from years prior, building upon 3-4 generations of that growth in order to reach its potential. But those generations alone are not enough – a ripe olive itself is inedible. It’s hard. It’s bitter. It’s completely useless after all of that time and cultivation. Through an immersion process the olive only then becomes a finished product. In terms of oil though, once an olive is cold pressed, no further refinement is needed – it comes out pure, ready, having built up to this moment. How important it is to recognize and appreciate that the olives’ growth took root in the rockiest of soil.
Everything pure in this world begins with a process. The process will be arduous, lengthy, and pressured, but the results include all of these pieces, which is what makes it pure. This is the secret as to why the olive oil for the Bait Hamikdash could not be filtered – all of the pieces of the process made it beautiful. The Assyrian-Greeks couldn’t wrap their heads around this concept. To them, it rationally didn’t make sense that the impurities create the purity. That liquids typically extinguish fire, whereas oil is its fuel. That through the darkest part of our eyes is where we gain the ability to process and see light. Instead of taking time to learn or accept the process, they annihilated it. Out of all of the incredulous miracles that happened during the Chanukah story, the Gemara only mentions that of finding the oil.
It doesn’t make sense why we go through challenges to become better, but we understand this concept was created within the very fabric of our world, by the Being Who defies all human rationale. But it’s also important to recognize that we’re not in this process alone. It was through five brothers we were lead to victory. We have an obligation to only light our Menorah’s when other people are around, to witness the miracle with another. One candle alone is enough to light up a dark room, but the addition of any further candles certainly makes it that much brighter. We wouldn’t be able to appreciate the light without darkness as its foil. A dreidel cannot contain gimmels on all sides, because if you can’t lose than you also can’t win.
This darkness has a purpose. This darkness has the ability to transform us and our character, which then gives us the power to transform that darkness into light. An eternal light like that which we’ve never experienced. To allow us to see the light within ourselves. Because if we don’t define our own light, that allows others to define it for us. A flame when contained and defined is a useful tool, but without set boundaries, it can wreak havoc and destruction that can destroy whole countries.
May we be zoche to achieve unity without uniformity, and to band as brothers to process the darkness until the light is within our reach. May we have the patience to search for one last sealed jug of oil, even when other people have destroyed that which they have not yet understood. I don’t know how to build a Menorah either, but I have full confidence that Hashem does, and that He will allow us to light it for all of eternity.
“A perfect God deigned to create an imperfect world, and dared to create an imperfect creature, and gave that creature—you and me, Jew and non-Jew—the daunting task of perfecting his imperfect world.” – R’ Ahron Soloveichik