On Chanukah we celebrate the miracle of the oil. The Maccabees liberate Jerusalem and march into the Temple only to find that there is only enough oil to light the Menorah for one night. Miraculously the oil lasts for eight nights.
In our homes, with eight nights of oil-powered Menorah lights and an endless supply of fried latkes and jelly doughnuts, if, by the end of Chanukah there is still any oil left in our local supermarket, that itself is a mini Chanukah miracle.
The heavy focus on oil has profound depth in Jewish thought. It is certainly no coincidence that the Hebrew word for oil, shemen, is also the root of the word shemoneh (the number eight), which equals the days of Chanukah.
Oil, which produces light, represents clarity. Our Sages teach us that clarity is something that transcends the natural order of the world. Our day-to-day life provides countless opportunities to be deceived, to allow the complicated world to skew our perception of right and wrong, of good and bad, and of truth and falsehood. To experience clarity one has to be able to challenge that which seems to be on the surface, to ask questions and to probe deeper when something just doesn't seem to make sense. It takes an open mind and an attitude that welcomes change and all possibilities. Just because "everybody is doing it" or "this is how I have always done it" doesn't mean that that is the way it ought to be.
Oil always rises to the top. It doesn't allow itself to be swallowed up and absorbed into other liquids. That is why it is was so appropriate to the miracle of Chanukah, which celebrated our resolve to not get swept away by all the glitz and glamour that the Greeks tried to impose upon us.
The number eight, shemoneh, also represents the transcendence of the natural order. It is the number seven that is the days of the week, the number of colors in the rainbow, the notes on a musical scale, the continents and many other manifestations in our physical world. But the number eight takes us into a place that transcends the natural order. It takes us above space and time. It reminds us that it isn't about the colors or the music or what is trending. It is only when we are ready to infuse the physical world with that spiritual light that we can really extract the true beauty in our world.
In the upcoming Torah portions we read about our patriarch Yaakov's son, Yosef. We turn to Yosef for inspiration every year at this time because his message and the message of the oil are one and the same. Yosef transcends the natural order of life. He was beautiful but did not allow his beauty to get him swept up in the culture of the communities where he found himself. He used it to become a powerful leader, to bring holiness into Egyptian culture, one of the most immoral societies of that time.
This Chanukah, let's let the message of the oil, of the number eight and of the righteous Yosef permeate our lives and challenge us to rise to the top and shine our light to the world!