The Cruse Of Oil – Rav Kook on Chanukah

“When the kingdom of the Hasmoneans was victorious,  they searched and found only one cruse of oil with the seal of the high priest intact. It had enough oil to light the candelabrum for one day, but a miracle occurred and they lit [the candelabrum] with it for eight days.” Tractate Shabbat 21b

Just as every Kohen amidst the people of God is prepared to teach HaShem’s statutes and laws, to demonstrate the substance of a sacred and pure life as an example to the entire nation, so, too within every Israelite is a priestly aspect, because in their collectivity they are “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6) The inner desire to sanctify life, to acquire knowledge of the Torah, and to abide by its teachings is concealed deep in the Israelite heart…The priesthood per se, which encompasses every walk of life and the full breadth of pure knowledge, also stood to be profaned by the Greeks.

But the light of the Israelite soul dwells even deeper in the heart. The inner bond of the Israelite-which appears in full strength in the collective nation- with the fundamental faith in the name of HaShem, God of Israel, and the firm, venerable will not to abandon his lifegiving faith, lies hidden there. This is the inner Israelite world exemplified by the high priest, who enters the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, the sacred day divorced from all mundane concerns. The Greeks were unable to contaminate that inner world, that small cruse with the seal of the high priest. No power or force can uproot Klal Yisrael’-the Community of Israel’s deep inner bond with HaShem, God of Israel; “Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the rivers drown it.” (Song of Songs 8:7)

But when the cruise remains insignificant, when belief is buried in the heart and does not actively influence life, how can it survive? Since life was already following a path foreign to the inner faith could not the final remnant be extinguished by the mound of ashes of the strange lifestyle heaped upon it? Yet the concealed spark of light possesses wondrous power. The spark encounters lifestyles contrary to its very substance, beliefs widely held by people unaware that their creeds contradict that which is buried deepest in their souls. Nevertheless, the hand of HaShem will be revealed through HaShem’s actions with His chosen nation. The small spark shall be kindled and shall totally consume all the foreign lifestyles and contradictory beliefs which have been heaped upon it. It will extend through all avenues of life, returning the heart of Israel to its Father in heaven.

The normative religious forces will gather sufficient strength to resurrect Israel and enlighten it for an intermittent period until a new era arrives, an era of new light on Zion, a day suffused with the grace of HaShem.

“But to Zion a redeemer shall come and to them that turn from transgression in Yaakov, says HaShem” (Isaiah 59:20).

At that time of confusion, when Greek lifestyles infiltrated Eretz Yisrael, the inner spark of faith which remained buried deep in the Israelite heart was symbolized by that small cruse of oil with the seal of the high priest, which had escaped contamination by foreigners. But can its light endure when the predominant lifestyle does not strengthen it, disseminate it, or make it felt in the heart? It is a small cruse that contains enough oil for only one day, one hour, one moment of exaltation when the human is raised from the baseness of life by the inner light of the bond of faith in the name of HaShem, the Master of the universe. But without a steadfast commitment to a Torah way of life, he shall quickly fall.

Yet a miracle occurred. Although life was unprepared to be impregnated with the holy light of the principal faith, nevertheless, by the force of HaShems’ Hand and and His commitment not to abandon His people for the sake of HaShem’s great name, the small cruse furnished enough oil to burn for eight days. The eight days represent the passing of the present era and the advent of the splendid future age of sanctity, when “the earth shall be filled with knowledge of HaShem as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).


Written in 1930. Published in Ma’amarei HaRayah, pp. 152-3. Translated by Pesach Jaffe in “Celebration Of The Soul: The Holidays In The Life and Thought of Rav Kook” by Rabbi M.Z. Neria, Genesis Jerusalem Press, 1992.



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