Why do we always have to eat? Your weekly message from Rabbi Gourarie

December 3, 2010 by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
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Question: Why are we Jews so obsessed with food? Every festival has its own dish. The one that really confuses me is Chanukah. We light candles to commemorate the story of the small flask of oil that miraculously burned for eight days. But for some reason that’s not good enough and we have to eat doughnuts and latkes saturated with oil. Don’t you think that lighting candles would be sufficient to celebrate this great event?

Answer:

Rabbi Michol Gourarie photo: Henry Benjamin

There is a story told of Aristotle’s student, Alexander the Great, who one day entered his master’s home unannounced. To his astonishment, he found Aristotle engaged in immoral behaviour. Later, when they were alone, Alexander asked, “Is this the way of the great Aristotle—the philosopher, the teacher, the mentor?” Aristotle responded, “When I teach you philosophy and the wonders of the world, I’m Aristotle. But here, in private, I’m not Aristotle.”

Lighting Chanukah candles can be an inspiring experience with a powerful lesson. The small flask oil that burned miraculously for eight days reminds us of the infinite power of our soul. We all possess a little flask of purity deep within ourselves with amazing supernatural potential. When we stand in front of the Chanukah candles it is a moment to see beyond the challenges and complications of life and focus on the pristine energy of our soul, that allows us to grow and to soar to great heights and overcome our natural limitations.

But after an hour the flames disappear and we are in danger of snapping out of the experience and the message will be lost. That is why we eat doughnuts. In the doughnut the oil does not remain alone – it is absorbed in the flour and the jam.  It teaches us not to leave the Chanukah inspiration alone in the Menorah but to take it with us and allow it to be absorbed into every part of our lives. Eating the doughnut reminds us not to allow the Chanukah inspiration to be abstract and theoretical. It helps us internalise and ‘digest’ the message so that it can last beyond the eight days of Chanukah.

Don’t forget to light the Menorah every night, and then treat yourself to a delicious doughnut.

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