The Gemara in Shabbat 21b says:

...For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day's lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days.

Why did the flask of oil that was found have the seal of the Kohen Gadol on it?

Was this his duty to oversee the oil ? (I don't recall such a thing)

If not, was there a particlar story here behind this flask that was found?

3 Answers 3


Vedibarta Bam brings two answers:

  1. From the Tzemach Dovid of Dinov: The Gemora writes that the oil was מונח בחותמו של כהן גדול - "lying with the Kohen Gadol's seal". It should have said, "שהי' חתום" - "that was sealed?" From this we may deduce that when the Hasmoneans entered the Beit Hamikdash, their eyes beheld a fascinating phenomenon. They saw one cruse of oil, and it was lying together with the precious golden signet ring of the Kohen Gadol. They surmised that undoubtedly no Greek had come into this area, because he definitely would have stolen the ring. Therefore, they confidently assumed that the cruse was not defiled by the Greeks and fit for the Menorah kindling.

  2. In the name of the Chidushei Harim: The Kohen Gadol was required to bring a daily sacrifice consisting of flour and oil, known as "chavitei Kohen Gadol" (Vayikra 6:15). Normally, the oil used for this offering would be of lower quality than that used for the kindling of the Menorah. However, the Kohen Gadol in that time was a highly distinguished spiritual personality, and a mehader bemitzvot — scrupulous in mitzvot — who used pure olive oil for his daily sacrifice. When the Hasmoneans entered the Beit Hamikdash, they did not find any oil to kindle the Menorah. Luckily they found one cruse which was designated for the Kohen Gadol's daily sacrifice, and, to their utter amazement, it was pure olive oil.


I once heard from the previous Pittsburger Rebbe ztsl a beautiful answer on this question. He asked what was done with the jug after it was emptied into the menorah? Since oil sticks, there must have been drops of oil left inside and they were Kodoish. It must be that they returned it to the Beis HaBad (the place where they pressed the oil) to have it refilled. To avoid those drops becoming Tamei on the way, he, the Kohen Godol, sealed the jug with his seal. It was such a jug which they found and miraculously the menorah burned the first night from those drops. (This of course also answers the famous question of the Beis Yosef as to why there are 8 days Chanuka if the miracle only took place 7 days). He said that this is what we refer to in Maoz Tzur when we say "UMINOSSAR KANKANIM na'asah nes lashoshanim" ("and from the remnants of the jugs a miracle was done for the Jews")!

  • 2
    +1 Very interesting, though this doesn't fit with the girsa in our gemoras (Shabbos 21b) לא היה בו אלא להדליק יום אחד. One of the answers to the Beis Yosef's question is based on the alternate girsa אפילו יום אחד
    – Michoel
    Dec 12, 2012 at 1:59

Last night - at a Bar Mitzva - a certain Rav Wallach answered this with a Medrash.

He actually asked: if you have to light the Menora with oil, then how could the Chashmonaim do it with "miracle oil"?

Normally the Kohen Gadol did not seal flasks of oil. However, it once happened in the time of Shimon HaZadik - 180 years before the events of Chanuka - that they were preparing oil and there was one flask which simply would not fill.

They managed to pour into it 8 times the normal quantity of oil before it filled up. When Shimon HaZadik heard this, he realized this miracle was in preparation for something that would happen in the future. So he sealed the flask and hid it in a safe place.

When the time was right, this flask - of 8 portions of compressed oil - was discovered and used.

  • +1 that's a really interesting answer... but wouldn't this still be considered 'miracle oil' ?
    – Danield
    Dec 12, 2012 at 10:35
  • @Danield The problem with "miracle oil" is that the Torah requires oil from olives, not oil that came from a miracle. This was natural olive oil just compressed to 1/8 of it's volume. But what is interesting about this explanation is that if so the miracle of Chanuka did not take place then but rather 180 years prior.
    – Michoel
    Dec 12, 2012 at 23:06
  • perhaps the flask was miraculous, not the oil
    – user8593
    Dec 18, 2014 at 17:54
  • 1
    there is a sort of precedent with Elisha and the widow's oil
    – user8593
    Dec 24, 2014 at 16:27

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