This week, Jews around the world are celebrating Chanukah, which commemorates the victory of the small Jewish army against the mighty Syrian Greek army that oppressed them and didn’t allow them to fulfill mitzvot and learn Torah.
The Jews returned to the Bet Hamikdash (Holy Temple) after winning the war and prepared to light the menorah, a sacred part of the daily service. But alas, all the oil was desecrated except for one jar of pure olive oil. There was only enough olive oil to burn for one day and it would take eight days to procure more. Miraculously, the oil in the menorah lasted eight days and nights.
We commemorate the miracle of the oil by lighting the menorah for eight days, kindling one flame on the first night and adding one candle each subsequent night.
If the menorah we light on Chanukah is commemorating the miracle of the menorah in the Bet Hamikdash, why do we light our candles from the time it starts getting dark, while the one in the Bet Hamikdash was lit during the day?
To answer this question, we must understand what the victory of Chanukah and the battles the Maccabim (the pious group of Jews who led the battles against the Syrian Greeks) fought were truly about.
The times of Chanukah (preceding the victory) were spiritually dark times for the Jews. The Syrian Greeks endeavored to get the Jews to assimilate into their hedonistic culture and idolatrous beliefs and leave them devoid of the G-dliness inherent in Torah and mitzvot. Sadly, many Jews succumbed to temptation and abandoned their observance.
The small group of Maccabim, arousing their inner strength, fought and vanquished their enemies against all odds, transforming darkness into light.
We light the menorah at night because the darkness of exile and its challenges arouse our inner strength, giving us the fortitude to light the darkness around us.
We are living through very challenging times; let us awaken our innate strength and use the light of Chanukah to transform the darkness into light by performing more mitzvos and good deeds. As Maimonides wrote, every person should see the world as an equal scale: One good deed can tip that scale and bring salvation to the entire world. With the coming of Moshiach, may it be speedily in our days. Amen. PJC
Rabbi Shneur Horowitz is the director of Chabad Lubavitch of Altoona, Pennsylvania. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.