The meaning of the miracle of Khanukkà: from 18 to 26 December the Jewish holiday close to Christmas teaches us the spiritual and psychological qualities of oil

The lighting of a Menorah, during the eight days of Khanukkà, commemorates an ancient miracle, about 2300 years ago, which took place in the great Temple of Jerusalem. When the Temple was reconquered, it was necessary to proceed with the rededication. However, only one cruet of pure oil was found in the Temple bearing the seal of the High Priest. For the preparation of pure oil that collected from the first drops of the pressing of the olives, it took eight days. In the Talmudic treatise of Shabbat we read of the great miracle that occurred: the oil that could have been enough for a single day was sufficient for eight days, thus giving the Priests the opportunity to prepare new oil. In memory of that miracle, the Sages of the Talmud instituted a feast of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord which lasts 8 days: Khanukkà which literally means “inauguration”. This year the celebration started on December 18th and ends on December 26th. Giving a psychological explanation to the feast also tells us about the qualities and paradoxes of olive oil. This essay is based on a letter from the Rebbe of Lubàvitch, written on Kislèv 20, 5708 (1947), and published in Igrot Kodesh vol. 2 page 316.

The Four Qualities of Olive Oil

  1. Olive oil is produced by crushing and beating ripe olives which must be severely “humbled and pressed” to extract pure oil.
  2. Olive oil penetrates deeply into solid substances. We all know how difficult it is to remove the oily grease that finds its way into our fingers or clothes. Various oils have been used, throughout history, as remedies for bodily injuries and ailments, as the oil penetrates the body, far beyond its outer tissue.
  3. The oil does not mix with other liquids. When you try to mix oil with water, the oil will stay distinct and won’t dissolve in it.
  4. Not only will the oil not mix and dissolve in other liquids, but it will rise, floating above any other liquid.

These, on a symbolic level, appear as paradoxical characteristics. Even if pressed, “humiliated” hard, still rises to the top! It does not mix with other liquids and in the same way it penetrates solid substances. So, just as paradoxically, we can ask ourselves this question: is oil “humble” or “arrogant”?

From spiritual to physical. In Jewish mystical writings all physical properties, of any object, are considered as a continuum of their metaphysical properties. Every existing object or being or thing originates in the realm of spirit and is derived and represented by a particular sublime energy. Thus, such energy evolves to transform itself into matter, giving rise to particular physical characteristics that mirror their spiritual source. This concept constitutes an extremely rich element in Judaism. From the point of view of the Torah, the truths of science, physics, chemistry, biology, etc.; the truths of philosophy, spirituality and psychology merge into a perfect mosaic, since the physical world descends from the spiritual one so that the two worlds mirror each other. The same principle also applies to oil: the four qualities mentioned above are essentially the physical manifestation of the four spiritual and psychological attributes from which the oil comes. These, in turn, evolve and assume the four physical forms of expression outlined above. In our life, and especially during the Khanukkà festival, we must learn to become “like oil” and develop its four properties.

  1. If you press the olives they produce pure oil! This represents the notion of humility: the antithesis of arrogance and excess of self. It means seeing ourselves, for who we really are. Be ready to discover our biases, blind spots and mistakes. Only this allows us to genuinely grow without the contamination of our ego.
  2. The direct result of this pressure is the ability to become like oil, so that it can penetrate deeply into others. When we are haughty and pompous (usually due to a lack of self-esteem and therefore a need to build confidence in a deluded self), we are unable to share “ourselves” with others, or allow them to share “themselves.” with us. We hide in a bubble, out of fear of being vulnerable and authentic. In this way, true relationships cannot arise. Only when our false ego is pressed, by choice or by life circumstances, do we have the courage to show ourselves in the world and to others, with our true “I”. Only in this way can we connect, deeply, with the hearts of other people. It is no coincidence that during the period of Khanukkà we read the story of Yossèf, how he transforms from “rags to riches”, how he goes from the worst Egyptian prison to becoming the viceroy of the time. The strength to climb Egypt’s highest peak reached Yossèf, only thanks to the humility he had developed, first at Potifàr’s house as a slave and then in the most degraded prison, reserved for the worst criminals. Only the great humility that flourished in Yossèf allowed him to reach so high. Very often to achieve disproportionate success, paradoxically, it is essential to be humble.
  3. Humility must never allow us to be dejected and genuine relationships must not limit us too much. We must never give up our individual identity, to completely dissolve in the emotions or choices of others. The beauty of a magical relationship lies in two distinct individuals, each with their own personalities, choosing to share themselves, with each other. Just like oil, we need to know how to handle and feel the deep emotions involving relationships with other human beings, without being consumed or nullified by them. Like oil, we must always keep our identity. A superficial life that inevitably produces immature and frivolous behavior. this is the greatest evil of our third millennium: lack of self-esteem. From the third teaching of the oil, we learn how not to “mix” our identity to satisfy others or subordinate it to their appreciation, like oil which always maintains its essence, even if it is found together with other liquids.
  4. This threefold process of squeezing into ourselves, of strengthening ties with others, without losing our individuality, should ultimately lift us up, just like oil. It should launch us upwards and make us “float” above everything around us. We must be able to understand that we are a “Part of the Divine” and that in every moment of our lives we are God’s “ambassadors” in the world. Only this allows us to feel above the difficulties and obstacles we may encounter in ourselves or in others. This new awareness must be born, not from arrogance, but from realizing that our core is part of the infinite, just like oil, we too must be able to rise to the top. The Talmud states: “A person’s messenger is just like the sender.” If God has chosen us and sent us on a mission to this world, it means that in some way we “act in his place and on his behalf” when we do his will. We are messengers of God, as we are like Him! If we can identify this reality, nothing will hinder our ascent like oil.

This is the profound mystical meaning of the miracle of Khanukka’s cruet of oil. The reason why the focus of this holiday and our attentions turn to oil is because this story captures the meaning, the right “pace of life” that we must have. Each of us should become like a Menorah: being able to shine inside and out, in order to light up the world. We must be similar to oil, in its four main aspects:

  1. Rediscover the art of humility and integrity;
  2. Being able to present ourselves sincerely in our relationships;
  3. Always keep our individuality;
  4. Always recognize that part of us that is higher up.

The meaning of the miracle of Khanukkà: from 18 to 26 December the Jewish holiday close to Christmas teaches us the spiritual and psychological qualities of oil – Culto – Sicilia Report