> Holidays > Chanukah > Basics

Oil or Candles?

May 9, 2009 | by Shimon Apisdorf

To get oil from an olive, you've got to press hard. So too, the Jewish people shine under pressure.

Without a doubt, there is something special about those colored candles we all grew up with. However, colored candles are not a requirement. In fact, you don't even have to use candles at all if you don't want to.

"You mean I can use leftover sparklers from the Fourth of July?"

Actually, that?s going too far. But you can use olive oil. In fact, because it was used in the original Menorah in Jerusalem and because it produces such a beautiful flame, olive oil is considered the fuel of choice for the Chanukah menorah.

Another advantage of oil menorahs is that you can add fuel to them and keep those tiny flames burning throughout the night. This helps maintain the Chanukah atmosphere in your house long after the lighting ceremony has ended.

Jewish Pressure

Olive oil is symbolic of the Jewish people. Do you know how you get the finest oil from an olive? You've got to press it really hard.

Life creates a lot of pressure, and it is often precisely at those times ― when we are pushed to the breaking point ― that our finest moments shine through. To persevere and overcome enormous pressure is one of the defining challenges of life. It is also a defining theme in Jewish history.

When the Dalai Lama was exiled from Tibet, he sought out the council of Jewish leaders. The Jews are mankind's paradigm for perseverance:

• The Jewish people have carried a love for Jerusalem through centuries of oppression by enemies who swore we would never see her walls again.

• The Jewish people have been called upon to believe that the value of all human beings lies in their being "created in the image of God," despite being victimized by the most evil and grotesque of men.

• Jewish parents have even educated their children to be proud, committed Jews when being a Jew was a liability at best and a mortal danger at worst.

This is the message of the olive, its oil and the clear flames of the menorah. The harder you try to crush our bodies and souls, the brighter our flame will ultimately shine.

Adapted from "Chanukah - Eight Nights of Light, Eight Gifts for the Soul," by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf

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