A Chanukah Miracle
By Larry Gold
Years ago I was discussing the subject of miracles with a close friend who had attended a seminary but was never ordained in her church. She told me that a miracle was just a change in perception. That powerful thought has stayed with me ever since and I continue to try and figure out what she meant. Which leads me to Chanukah.
Every year as Chanukah approaches, we talk about the “miracle” it represents. To some it means the miracle of a few overcoming the mighty; the stunning victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians and Greeks; and the recapture of the City of Jerusalem. To others, especially children and children of all ages, the miracle is how a small amount of “sacred” oil in the rededicated Temple lasted for eight days when it first seemed only enough for one day. This, despite the fact that in the Books of the Maccabees and in other source texts, there is no mention of this miracle of the oil. It’s just a great story and we love to tell it.
Perhaps the greatest aspect of the “miracle” of Chanukah is that after almost 2,200 years, Jews still exist to tell the story. Despite pogroms, slaughters, the Shoah and other disasters, Jews have persevered and persisted. This, for me, is the true miracle of Chanukah – that we’re still around to tell the story.
And this is where change of perception – the definition of miracle – plays out. For it is the lights that we kindle and the memories they ignite that propel us forward and allow us to change our perceptions.
We light candles many times. On Shabbat, on festivals, for Yartzeits and Shiva and then, too, for Chanukah. But we say a special greeting for Chanukah. When we greet our friends and family on Chanukah, we don’t just say “Chag Sameach.” Instead, we say “Chag Urim Sameach.” Have a wonderful festival of lights.
We light candles and we remember. What we remember is not as important as the fact that we do remember. We witness a change in perception through lighting candles and through remembering.
In his sermon on Shabbat a few weeks ago, Rabbi Sandler talked about Jacob’s revelation after he fought with “a man”. When the dawn broke and the “fight” was finished, Jacob looked around, saw the world in a different way – saw its beauty and said he was in the presence of God.
On that same Shabbat, in his torah commentaries, Rabbi Rosenthal talked about how the rabbis of old decided where to “breakup” the parashyiot – how to separate them. He noted that, while not true in every case, often the breaks occur just before a sentence would begin with an “active” verb. Some action was going to take place. That’s a good place to start.
These two themes are really the same.
We need to look up and see the presence of God in our world and in our midst. What better time to take note of this than at Chanukah when we are bathed in light? But looking around is not enough. We must act to preserve that world and we must continue to remember the miracles – miracles not only that God has wrought, but miracles man has also created through acts of lovingkindness.
When we do this, our perceptions change.
What must we do? There’s a pretty good list of things we can and should do and it appears in our daily morning service. Every day, near the beginning of the service, we read aloud words from the Gemara about the “acts that yield immediate fruit and continue to yield fruit in time to come…” And these acts are: Honoring parents; doing deeds of lovingkindness; attending the house of study; providing hospitality; visiting the sick; helping the needy bride; attending the dead; probing the meaning of prayer; making peace; studying Torah. Not a bad list. Would that we could do just one or two of these every day!!
And I would add to that list – we must continue to remember.
When we light the Chanukah candles, we use the word “kindle” – we say we kindle the Chanukah candles – and kindle means to start; to begin. So, the entire holiday experience is an exercise in beginning, in starting, and by beginning and starting and remembering we make ourselves receptive – we open ourselves up to the miracle of Chanukah.
May we all find the true miracle of Chanukah in our lives this year and may it be it for a blessing for all of us, our families, our friends and for Jews everywhere.
By Rabbi Neil Sandler
Since biblical days people have had a fascination with miracles. The devastating plagues that God sent upon the Egyptians and, later, the splitting of the Red Sea are among the miracles that most captivate the reader. Those miracles, in turn, “beget” other divine miracles long after the biblical narratives are sealed.
Google “miracles” and “TV,” and you will likely come across this show, “Miracles Happen!” Rooted in Christian evangelism, “Miracles Happen! shows the miraculous “healing power of God…” again and again and again. You may also come across “It’s a Miracle,” another TV show that purported to document miracles that people perceived in their lives. It lasted for six years…
Now another TV show has recently entered this “miracle” genre – “God Friended Me.” Have you seen it? I have not, but here is a brief description of it:
“Miles Finer is an outspoken atheist whose life is turned upside down when he receives a friend request on social media from God and unwittingly becomes an agent of change in the lives and destinies of others around him…”
The early reviews of this new TV show are positive, and I think I know why. Fascination with divinely – produced miracles doesn’t always last. Hocus pocus on God’s part doesn’t interest us for long or spiritually uplift us. In fact, understanding “miracles” in the Bible as the direct actions of the Holy One/Miracle Worker ironically denigrates God’s power. That’s why we feel compelled to reject literalism and understand these biblical “miracle moments” in other significant and lasting ways.
That God infuses us with a spirit that leads us to be “agents of change in people’s lives and destinies,” like Miles Finer, is something we find appealing and compelling. But are such things, “healing” actions, perhaps, on our part, really “miraculous?’
I say, “Yes.” I would say that it is natural to take care only of our own needs and perhaps, at least to some extent, of those we love. Others? I would say it is natural to ignore the needs of others.
So why do many of us care about other people? Why do we take our time, energy and financial resources and devote them to others in need who we may not even know? Because “God Friended Me…” and “You.” Some will disagree with me and suggest that it is human nature to care about others, especially those in need. I say, “No.” Rather, it is because God endowed us with a “Yetzer Hatov” (the ability and desire to do good) that we often choose to do good and help others.
To me, the exercise of that ability is miraculous because it is not natural. Yet, while God is at the root of such expression, this understanding of “miraculous” action does not reduce God to a miracle worker.
Early this December we will celebrate another one of those Jewish miracle holidays, Chanukah. We will celebrate the “miracle” of the Temple menorah whose light lasted for eight days when it should have been extinguished after a single day. In fact, when we light the menorah each evening in our homes, in the second blessing, we will praise God “…who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days, at this time of year.”
Much of this language appears in a special paragraph that we insert in the Amidah during Chanukah. Yet, if we look at the prayer books we use at AA, you will notice the addition of a single letter that means ‘and’ changes the entire meaning and focus of “miracles.” In the special “Al Hanissim” prayer we find in Siddur Sim Shalom, God “…performed miracles for our ancestors in those days AND at this time.”
What are the “miracles” that God performs at this time? The miracle of placing you and me on this earth and endowing each of us with a Yetzer Hatov so that we might reflect the divine image and do good in this world. Of course, that “miracle,” as Miles Finer learns in “God Friended Me,” is not unique to Chanukah. We can give uplifting expression to it whenever we desire and feel called to do so.
Susan joins me in the hope that you and your loved ones will enjoy a very Happy Chanukah! May you always bring your light to those who are in need of it.