Hanukkah and the Miracle of Saving Oil

by Drew Kaplan, Rabbinical Student

At this time of year, inevitably, one turns to the famous rabbinic teaching in order to find out about the origin of Hanukkah. Upon inquiring as to what the etiological event was which established this holiday to be celebrated by Jews year in and year out, the Talmud responds that our rabbis taught:

That when the Seleucidic Greeks entered into the Holy Temple, they impurified all of the oils that were within the Temple. And when the kingdom of the House of the Hashmonai had grown stronger and had conquered them, they checked and found only one jar of oil upon which had been placed the seal of the High Priest and there was only enough in it to light one day with it. A miracle occurred with it and they were able to light with it for eight days….
(Shabbat 21b)

The famous and oft-told miracle of one jug of oil lasting eight times its expected yield is certainly quite the miraculous happening. The idea of the utilization of a fuel resource for eight-fold of its expected output would be miraculous today, as well. Would it only be that our gasoline and other fuel supplies would yield such abundance! Even five-fold or three-fold would be tremendously helpful to our ability to utilize the limited and – in these times – expensive fuel resources.

However, if we were to take a different look at an aspect of this story from over twenty-one and a half centuries ago, we can see in it an environmental lesson for ourselves nowadays. There is more to consider than how much oil is used – there is also the matter of the exhaust that comes from the oil. In order to prevent air pollution and global warming, we need to reduce not only the use of the oil itself, but also the exhaust that comes from the fuel. How much exhaust would be put out by that increased utilization of resources? What was it like in the Temple when the House of Hashmonai reclaimed it? Was there an eight-fold increase in the amount burnt off, or was there a correlative amount of gas burnt off as there was in the individual lamps?

Today, if we were to have the first part of the fuel miracle on a widespread basis, we would also wish that this second element would be present as well – that the exhaust gases would not be as voluminous as the increase in fuel utilization.

As environmentally conscious Jews, while we would want to cut down on the oil that we use for economic and security reasons, it is also significant for us is to be able to cut down on the pollution and carbon emissions when we use all sorts of polluting fuels, including oil, coal, and other fossil sources of energy. When driving our cars, or any other activity where we consume fuel which is harmful to the environment which God has entrusted to us, we need to consider this and respond appropriately. We can also support technologies, such as solar power capabilities, that would allow for a significant drop in fuel use and carbon emissions.

We don’t need to wait for a miracle to save energy and protect Hashem’s world. Today, it is upon us to be mindful of our fuel consumption and energy usage and to try and reduce our environmental impact.

Originally posted in “On Eagles’  Wings” December 19th 2006