There are several ways that one may fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the hanukiah, but whichever is your preferred way there is no question that olive oil does play a part in the story of Hanukkah.
Since olive oil comes from olives and olives come from olive trees, let’s take a look at some comparisons between olive trees and the Jews.
Olive trees live longer than most trees. One reason for this is that they have very long strong roots which grow deep into the earth. This helps the tree remain strong during dry summers. As well, if the part of the tree above-ground is destroyed, the part of the tree below-ground can regenerate itself. Likewise, Judaism is long living and has very strong roots. Jews have encountered many tragedies over the years, yet we are still around and strong. At times our numbers have been challenged, like at the time of the Maccabees, but our strong roots have kept us safe.
The wood of the olive tree is resistant to decay. Similarly, Judaism is resistant to hardships; whether in the form of Pharaoh, the Syrian-Greeks, the Nazis or assimilation. Jews have always resisted decay.
Olives straight from the tree are bitter. Some look at Judaism the same way. They only see the “you must do this” and the “you mustn’t do that.” However, once cured the olive is very tasty. Likewise, when one understands more about Judaism, one realizes that there is much more to it than rules. But just as the olive takes time and effort to cure, so does Judaism.
Olives don’t seem very mighty or impressive when they are on a tree, but their outer appearance is misleading. The olive can be cured to make a healthy snack, or they can be crushed to make oil for cooking, for the skin or to light up a room. Jews on the whole may not be impressive in their numbers within the general population of the world, but their numbers are impressive when it comes to top prizes like nominees for the Oscars and Nobel prizes.
The olive contains a high ratio of oil and is very healthy. The riper the fruit, the greater the amount of oil which can be extracted. Likewise, the more time and effort one puts into learning Judaism and deeds of mitzvot, the more one receives from Judaism.
Olive oil is also used for lighting. The menora in the Tabernacle and the Beit HaMikdash was kindled only with olive oil and that is what the Maccabees used when they rededicated the Temple. Judaism has also been known to shed light. We are proud of all the accomplishments of Jews throughout the ages who have contributed so much to the world. As well, we strive to be “a light unto the nations.”
The oil from olives is beneficial not just to eat and for lighting, but also for our skin. As well the leaf from the olive tree is used in medicinal teas and extracts. Judaism, is not just a good way to live; it is also good for our soul.
The olive has a hard pit which takes years to decompose. Similarly, our Jewishness can take years to decompose. It is not all that uncommon for someone of Jewish descent to realize that even though he/she was not raised with any semblance of religion that they are Jewish and start learning more about Judaism. (The hard core or pit is inside every Jew.)
Olive tree waste provides renewable energy.
It gives off two and a half times the heat of burning wood and the smoke is harmless. As an extra bonus the ash can be used to fertilize gardens. When the environment (populations) heat up with antisemitism, Jews tend to give off extra energy and come out feeling proud of their heritage. And just as the olive tree is environmentally friendly, Judaism cares about the environment.
In Israel, olive trees grow both wild and cultivated. The cultivated varieties bear a much larger olive and it provides more oil. Some Jews are also “wild,” so to speak (as they are not instructed in Judaism). While the cultivated Jews (those who learn about Judaism) may follow more Jewish rituals, the “wild” Jews still live in Israel as Jews following the Jewish calendar.
The Hebrew for oil שמן contains the same letters as the word נשמה which means soul. The oil is hidden in the olive, just as our souls are hidden within us. And just as the oil can be lit and fill a room with light, so a Jew can shed light on the world by leading with morals, justice, concern for others and other mitzvot.
This Op-Ed/Analysis is the author’s personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of JerusalemOnline.com.