Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
One reason for this strange phenomenon is Chanukah's connection to oil; it began with finding a bottle of pure undefiled oil. Oil corresponds to the deepest level of the Jewish soul (In Kaballah it's called "Yechida").
The Jewish soul is like oil. Just as oil contains two opposites; it floats above all liquids, but is found in and permeates all substances.
So also the Jewish people can never really mix with the rest of the world (they always seem to come to the surface) but their purpose is to be active in the world and permeate it with holiness and meaning. It completely defies understanding, the mystery of mysteries.
Here is a story to explain:
On the last days of the "Peace in Galilee" war, I was one of a group of ten Chabad Chassidim that got permission from the army to enter Beirut, Lebanon to cheer up the soldiers.
The soldiers welcomed us as though we were announcing the end of the war. The entire night we went from group to group singing, dancing, talking, laughing, and of course making L'Chaims.
There was no time to sleep, so at the crack of dawn we got our Tefillin and began asking soldiers if they wanted to do a Mitzvah and put them on for a minute.
At that hour of the morning, most of the soldiers were still asleep, so I walked around looking for "customers", and happened on a line of about ten open jeeps with two Israeli soldiers seated in each one. Their motors were running and they were waiting in the chilly morning to go out on some sort of mission. It must have been some sort of combat foray, because they were armed to the teeth and were wearing bulky bulletproof vests and metal helmets.
I approached the first jeep and asked them if they wanted to put on and one agreed. Then, when he finished, I moved on to the next one and asked the driver the same question, but I was in for an unpleasant surprise.
He just listened, looking straight ahead, and even didn't react to my question. So I just stood there and waited for a reply. After a few seconds of silence, he turned to me and said. (Loose translation) "Get away from me you parasite religious scum" If you don’t get out of my face I'll tear you in pieces! NOW GET OUT OF HERE! I hate you vermin!"
I understood that the answer was no. I tried to force a smile and figure out something to say, when suddenly the driver of the next jeep in line called out to me in a desperate tone.
"Rebbe, Rebbe. Come here. I want to put on Tefillin" I turned, happy to get away, and began to walk toward him.
"Tell me Rebbe" he yelled nervously after I had taken a few steps and was still quite a distance from him, "If....if I put on Tefillin will G-d protect me?"
It was obvious that he was very worried. Yesterday he was probably sitting in his hardware store selling pipes and tools, when they called him up to reserve duty, and suddenly here he was about to enter the front lines.
"Listen my friend" I assured him. "G-d will protect you whether you put on or not. Don't worry. He loves you because you're a Jew. But if G-d protects you for free, so why not do something for Him for free, and put on Tefillin?"
It seems that the soldier in the second Jeep, the one that cursed me out, had heard all this and was thinking it over, because when I finished putting on and then removing the Tefillin from this soldier he yelled out:
"Hey Rabbi! Come over here!"
I turned around to see him rolling up his sleeve like he wanted to do the commandment, and motioning to me to come.
I took a few steps toward him and called out as I was walking, "What do you want? What happened?"
"Listen!" he replied "What do you care? I want to put on too."
I gave him a look and an Israeli hand motion as to say, "Are you for real?" And he replied;
"Listen my friend. To put on Tefillin in order to go to heaven or to be religious, that's NOT for me. But to put on Tefillin for no reason...THAT I'm willing to do!"
This is the essence of the Jewish soul in action. It defies understanding. If he had no reason, then why did he do the commandment?!
The answer is, because a Jew in his ESSENCE (above logic, or even mystical explanations) wants to DO what G-d wants; he/she is ONE with G-d not only spiritually, but (even more so) PHYSICALLY!
This is the special connection of Chanukah to Moshiach.
Other aspects of Chanukah; Light, Victory, Purity, the Holy Temple, are also connected uniquely to Moshiach: Moshiach will illuminate the world with G-dliness, defeat all enemies of Judaism, purify (with the ashes of the red heifer) the Jewish people and all creation, and finally restore the Holy Temple.
But the most important is oil. The word "Moshiach" means anointed with oil. And he will appeal to the "oil", the "Yechida" of each and every Jew.
In fact, he will use this "oil" to teach (Chinuch) and illuminate the entire world like it was on Mount Sinai and in the Holy Temple.
And this can only be done through the "OIL" of the Torah. (the revelations on Sinai and in the Holy of Holies were also accompanied by the Torah, but the OIL of the Torah is unique to Moshiach.)
The Torah is likened to water, to bread, to wine, and to oil:
Because it satisfies spiritual hunger it is like water and bread Because it contains intoxicating concealed mysteries, it is compared to wine (also, the numerical value of wine "YAYIN" equals secret "SOD"). But oil is a metaphor for the "Mystery of mysteries".
This double mystery is what made that second soldier change his mind. "No reason at all!" It's where the essence of the Jew meets with the essence of the Torah and the Essence of HaShem.
So that explains the mysterious popularity of Chanukah. The "oil" of the Jewish soul aroused especially on Chanukah, pushes the Jews into action.
That very "oil" will push and is pushing all the Jews in the world to wake up and ILLUMINATE the entire world with the light of Chanukah and put an end to all darkness (Job 28:3). As it says in Ovadya (1:18) "The house of Yaakov will be a fire and the house of Yosef a flame" with Moshiach NOW!
For more articles from this author, visit his website at http://www.ohrtmimim.org/torah/