In the mizmor of Maoz Tzur which we traditionally sing after lighting the menorah, we sing about the greatness of Hashem who has been with us through all of our hardships. When we relate the pain which we experienced in the times of the Greeks, one excerpt requires explanation. It says that one of the things that the Greeks did to us was that they were “timu kol hashmanim,” that is, they defiled all of the pure oil that was to be used for the Menorah. The question is, why did they choose to defile it? If they wanted us not to perform the avodah of the Beis Hamikdash, wouldn’t just pouring it out have been a more successful way of getting rid of it?
The answer is a very deep yesod which is fundamental to the understanding of Chanukah and the effect which Chanukah is supposed to leave us with. The Gemara in Bava Metzia says over a story of R’ Chiya. R’ Chiya saw that Torah was being forgotten in his generation, so he sought to restore it to the masses. The Gemara relates how R’ Chiya planted seeds, from which he reaped the wheat, from which he made nets, from which he caught deer, from which he made a klaf, from which he wrote down Torah, from which he distributed to children and told them to go and tell all their friends about the Torah. The obvious question is: Why did R’ Chiya needed to go through every step himself? That’s not a proper way to do kiruv! To push off the spreading of Torah because you need to plant some seeds!? What’s going on here? Why didn’t he just print out some Lubavitch-styled pamphlets and distribute them to the masses?
The ba’alei Mussar answer than in order for there to be a Mesorah of Torah in Judaism, it needs to be done with complete purity. Every step which goes into the spreading of the Torah, even the roots which seemingly don’t make a difference at all need to be l’sheim shomayim. This is what R’ Chiya was teaching us: That in order for there to be a continuation of Torah throughout the generations, it needs to be pure.
In Al hanissim, we relate how the Greeks’ deepest desire was to make klal Yisrael forget the Torah. How would they do it? Through defiling our purity! Being metamei kol hashmanim! The Greeks knew this yesod which R’ Chiya taught us. They understood that in order for the Torah to become a part of us, it needs to be with tahara. And if it lacked this tahara, it would be just like any other intellectual venture, like math or science. To say that math or science defines a person’s essence doesn’t really make sense. The reason is because it’s just a yediah b’alma, a knowledge which exists outside of the person but doesn’t necessarily become a part of the person himself.
That’s why the Greeks wanted to defile the pure oil. They wanted to show that they’re completely ok with us having oil, we can have our Torah, but they wanted to mix something else in with it. They wanted to infuse our Torah with a sense of secularism; to mix our purity with a foreign agent. For they knew that if they did this, we would be able to know our Torah, but it wouldn’t become a part of us. And if the Torah wouldn’t become a part of us, then it would eventually become forgotten forever.
How many times nowadays do we see the secular community’s effect on our society? Even with the recent Pew research report which indicates that the majority of Judaism will cease to exist within the next decade, many people still attempt to force a connection to secularism and non-Jewish philosophy/ideology. But what has to be realized and actualized is the yesod of Chanukah. That for there to be a continuation of Torah throughout the generations, it needs to be with a purity. It can’t have other ideals mixed into it. That’s the yesod of Chanuka and the foundation to keep the Mesorah of Torah alive even amidst our darkest galus.