In honor of Chanukah, we present a letter in which the Rebbe asks why is it so important that the menorah oil be pure? The flame burns just as well with less than pure oil. Do the ends justify the means? The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
25th of Teves, 5730
Chicago, Ill. 60649
Greeting and Blessing:
Your check for tzedoko was particularly welcome in accordance with what has become your good custom during these auspicious times of the year. Indeed, coming soon after Chanukah , when it is a good Jewish custom to give “Chanukah gelt,” your contribution will provide much needed “oil” to spread the light of Torah and mitzvos, in keeping with the spirit and practice of the first historic Chanukah and the miracle of the oil. As our Sages tell us- and they always chose their words very carefully – the enemy had “defiled all the oils.” This means that the enemy had not simply taken away or destroyed the pure and sanctified olive oil which was used for the menorah in the Beis Hamikdash, but left the oil, except that they defiled it. Thus, the menorah could have actually been lit with his oil and there would have been no need for the miracle.
The lesson of this miracle is as follows: at first glance it also seems advisable to kindle a light, even if it is not a pure light, for isn’t any light better than none at all? However, our spiritual leaders insisted on using only pure and undefiled olive oil for the menorah, thereby teaching us the importance of the root and source of things. For if the oil comes from an unclean source, the light cannot truly serve its purpose.
The vest illustration of the truth of the above, as has been mentioned on previous occasions, is what happened in Germany in our own times. Here was a people who had produced outstanding philosophical systems and moral and ethical concepts, much more than any other nation in modern times. However, because these ideologies were based on the principle of might and right and on the authority of human reason alone, which however brilliant, is not infallible, all the moral and ethical values did not prevent the German form sinking to the nadir of moral depravity. On the contrary, they used their logic an philosophy to justify the most inhuman and vile actions, making virtue out of vice, all in the name of racial superiority and domination.
And so the eternal message of Chanukah emphasizes again that not only the ends, but also the means must be pure and holy. This is why all work to strengthen and spread Yiddishkeit – especially in the area of education – must be in full keeping with the Torah itself. There is also the other aspect of the Chanukah message, namely that the activities to spread the light of the Torah and mitzvos, as symbolized by the Chanukah lights, has to be done in a steadily growing measure, just as the Chanukah lights are kindled in growing numbers from day to day.
I send you my prayerful wishes that you should likewise continue your participation in these great and sacred efforts, in a growing measure, consistently intensifying this light in your personal life and in your environment at large.