“Mitzvat Ner Chanukah Mitzvah Chaviva He Ad Meod,” “The Mitzvah of kindling Chanukah candles is especially beloved,” (Rambam, Hilchos Chanukah 4:12). Why does the Rambam single out Ner Chanukah over all other Mitzvot Derabbanan as being “especially beloved”?
Rav Eliezer Friedman, in his Sefer Simchas Yechezkel, suggests that at the crux of Mitzvat Ner Chanukah is the fact that they sought after Shemen Tahor (pure olive oil) when they did not need to. Chazal state that under the circumstances of the time, they could have lit the menorah with Shemen Tamei (impure oil). Nevertheless, they tapped into a hidden light of inspiration, and in the interest of fulfilling the mitzvah in the highest form they went beyond what was minimally required of them.
The difference between pure and impure oil is not physical. No one but Hashem can discern the spiritual state of oil. There could be no selfish motivation for searching to uncover pure oil, as there may have been to procure “clean” oil over “dirty.” These holy seekers were completely focused on doing the will of Hashem to the best of their ability, and with this they demonstrated that they valued spiritual enterprise.
When a person toils in fulfillment of the Mitzvot, even though with minimal effort he or she would be exempt from further action, but instead puts energy into carrying out the mitzvah in the highest form, he demonstrates spiritual depth. He is humbled before Hashem, since he places his desire to fulfill Hashem’s will before his own desires.
It makes sense for those who tapped into that which is Ganuz, or hidden within them, by toiling to seek out pure oil solely for the sake of Hashem, to merit finding the hidden vessel. They showed that hidden spiritual pursuits are of value to them, so they were rewarded with something hidden. A dynamic flow of inspiration such as this is present in all aspects of life. To the degree that we invest energy into our soul, Hashem injects inspiration into our lives.
The Chassidic master Shmuel of Sochochov, in his Sefer Shem Mishmuel, uses this theme of spiritual dynamics to explain Chochmat Hashem (wisdom of God) and how one acquires it. He states the degree to which one makes Hashem’s wisdom top priority is the degree to which he will see himself inspired with Chochmat Hashem.
The reason Ner Chanukah is singled out is that it crystallizes the essence of serving Hashem- delving into the heart of the Mitzvot to understand their Penimiut (spiritual depth) and tapping into our hidden light to fulfill the will of Hashem. This makes one eligible to tap into the splendor of Hashem’s hidden light.