Oil Painting

Can you spot a connection between all these English words?


No, of course not. Other than each being formed by adding letters to the previous word, there is no conceptual connection.

Yet in the Lord’s language, the meanings of the four following words are strongly linked:

חשׁמנה שׁמנה שׁמנ שׁמ

Reading from right to left, those words are:

● SHeM = Name
● SHeMeN = Oil
● SHeMoNeH = Eight
● CHaSHMoNaH = Hasmonean (the name of the priestly heroes of Chanukah)

Even if you don’t read Hebrew, you can see that the words build on each other, with the additional letter in this case, preceding the shared ones in the fourth word.

What is the connection between the Hebrew words for name, oil, eight, and Chashmonah?

These four words focus on human creativity. Giving birth to a child is the height of creativity. Yet, that is no different biologically from what animals do. When we name that baby at his circumcision on the eighth day of his life, we establish a life-long relationship between the child and parent. Furthermore, the circumcision puts a permanent mark on a baby boy’s most creative organ. The father is declaring himself to be responsible not just for the child’s physical life, but also for directing the child’s path so that his creative energies will be used for positive forces rather than for destructive ones.

Using the chemical energy that God packed into oil, we humans empower ourselves to be more creative, thus distinguishing ourselves from animals. As the fossils embedded in the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles reveal, animals came across oil and were trapped by it. Only human creativity harnessed the power of that underground fuel source, using it to improve living conditions.

The final word in our list, Chashmonah, starts with the 8th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, CHeT, placed in front of the word we just saw for eight, shemonah.

In Hebrew, each letter alphabet has a numerical equivalence. CHeT stands for the number eight. So we have a numerical representation of eight placed ahead of the word eight written out. This is similar to what we might see in a contract “…pay the sum of eight dollars ($8.00) to the seller…”

Each number has an association in ancient Jewish wisdom. Seven relates to the natural world as God created it. We see that God established a cycle of seven days in the week and we view seven colors in the rainbow

Coming on the heels of seven, eight is the number chiefly associated with the contribution that humans make to God’s natural world. The eight-day holiday of Chanukah (the only original eight-day holiday in the year) celebrates that human partnership with God in the ongoing task of keeping the world humming along.

Oil is a Biblical symbol for human partnership with God. Oil is both burned in the Chanukah menorah and also eaten in traditional deep-fried Chanukah foods. Oil is used to anoint kings because their existence is justified only as long as they do God’s work. We are instructed to light the Chanukah menorah when people are returning home from the marketplace – in other words, at the end of the work day. While many Jewish holidays urge us not to work, Chanukah is built around our work. Contributing to the economy and serving God’s other children epitomizes joining with God to create a better world. The bright light beamed out by the burning oil in the Chanukah menorah emphasizes the joy in our creative activities.

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