Preceding the חנוכה miracle, the Greeks, while in control of the בית המקדש, defiled all the oil that was used to light the מנורה. Once the חשמונאים took control, they searched and found one small cask of pure olive oil, and with it, they lit the מנורה in the courtyard of the בית המקדש. Why did they need to search for olive oil that is טהור? One can fulfill the מצוה with impure oil if there is no readily available טהור oil?
Rav Ben-David was once speaking to a group of architects. He asked them, what חידוש was there in architecture in the past thousand years? They tried giving examples but the Rav kept rejecting the examples as but a better way to do old ideas. Finally, when they agreed with him, he said I’ll tell you what you were מחדש, indoor plumbing. You took the bathroom from outside the house and put it inside the house.
Our goal in life is not to be מטהר the טמאים. We want to fulfill the מצוות the way they are intended to be done. There are many ranks in מצוה observance. The basic, fulfilling the מצוה as every Jew is obligated, then higher levels which define how holy the מצוה will be. This holiness will depend on the thoughts and actions done to make the מצוה possible. Corresponding to this, there are two types of people; those who do מצוות to be יוצא, who leave the מצוה once they are done, and those who want to delve into the מצוה and stay in the מצוה. Those who want to live the שולחן ערוך and therefore trim their materialism to make it possible, and those who want to live and enjoy their material life and therefore trim the שולחן ערוך to make that possible.
The חשמונאים were not looking just to fulfill the מצוה, if that’s what they wanted, we would not have a חנוכה. The Greeks did not mind that we are Jewish, in fact, part of the חנוכה war was a Jewish civil war, the חשמונאים against the Helenists, the מתיונים. Torah observant Jews versus cultural Jews. What the Greeks did mind was our ideology. What’s our purpose in life? Let us keep the Torah, but make it impure. Do Jewish customs but only to enhance our material life, not to subserviate ourselves to God.
Picture a candle, at the bottom is oil with a flame at the top. So too we humans, we have our oil, our physical bodies on bottom and a flame, our souls on top. As the verse states נר ה’ נשמת אדם, we are Hashem’s candles. We should be using our “oil” to bring out our “light”. How pure is our oil?
The חשמונאים then showed the world that we must keep the oil pure, even if the impure is technically fine. One reason why the חשמונאים lit the מנורה in the חצר and not in the היכל is to show the world this is how it is done. This is one reason why when we make a ברכה, we say אשר קדשנו not אשר חייבנו. We want to be part of the people who do מצוות on a higher pure level not just fulfill our obligation and leave.