Light to combat darkness of various kinds – Hanukkah 2020

What a strange harvest season, in the middle of winter’, my daughter says when I mention that I am off to pick olives again, trying to take advantage of a sunny day. We’re used to harvest time being in the summer to fall, and we’re used to thinking of Hanukkah as a holiday of lights, the fight for freedom and the miracle of the oil, seems like some sort of a legend, and what does that have to do with this time of year? But the Torah already alludes to it in Deuteronomy 11:13-15, where we find the second paragraph of the Shma:

וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־שָׁמֹ֤עַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְוֺתַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם לְאַהֲבָ֞ה אֶת־ה’ אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם֙ וּלְעָבְד֔וֹ בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶ֖ם וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁכֶֽם׃

If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the LORD your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul,

וְנָתַתִּ֧י מְטַֽר־אַרְצְכֶ֛ם בְּעִתּ֖וֹ יוֹרֶ֣ה וּמַלְק֑וֹשׁ וְאָסַפְתָּ֣ דְגָנֶ֔ךָ וְתִֽירֹשְׁךָ֖ וְיִצְהָרֶֽךָ׃

I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil

וְנָתַתִּ֛י עֵ֥שֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ֖ לִבְהֶמְתֶּ֑ךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָֽעְתָּ׃

I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle—and thus you shall eat your fill.

The (bolded) mention of “grain and wine and oil” references three harvest seasons: grain is wheat, which is linked to bread, and the wheat harvest holiday of Shavuot; the wine (grapes) is liked to the fall harvest holiday of Sukkot; and the oil, well, here we are. Hanukkah is actually the harvest holiday of the olives, the Torah’s term for oil. By the way, the mention of “grass in the fields” for our animals, is linked to Passover, when barley, animal fodder, is gathered, and the Omer count begins.

There’s another place in the Torah where we can see a hint for Hanukkah: Leviticus 23 lists all the Torah holidays. Then Leviticus 24 opens with the words:

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ צַ֞ו אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֨וּ אֵלֶ֜יךָ שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד׃

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Command the Israelite people to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly.

As if after the Torah holidays, we get glimpses of the post-Torah holidays, starting with Hanukkah and the lighting lights in the menorah with olive oil  (and yes, we can find hints to Purim and even Yom Ha’atzmaut right there!).

The Jewish people are often likened to the olives, because the olive never loses its leaves or greenery; and because the olive takes hard work to get the oil out. This is nothing like an apple or orange that one can just bite into. Olives are almost inedible off the tree. They need a process. And they need each other. Elsewhere, the Jewish people are also likened to a dove. And the Biblical done, not by coincidence, opted for an olive branch. The dove brought the branch of the same tree that is used to bring light, and the Jewish people were told to be a light unto the nations. The light that combats “darkness”, also – by switching letters around – is there to combat “forgetfulness” (choshech & shichecha). This is also what Hanukkah is about: to light a light where there is darkness, a form of it being forgetfulness.

Shabbat Shalom.

תקוע אלפא לשמן – the olive trees of the Upper Galilee, back in Mishna times and on to this very day

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