Chanukah Miracles by Gevura Davis
Dreidels, menorahs, latkes, gelt, lights, family and friends — the festival of Chanukah is filled with much activity, joy and inner peace. While growing up, my family's Jewish moment of the long fall and winter was the first night of Chanukah. My sister and I held onto my father’s strong hand as we lit that first candle, illuminating our home with that warm golden glow. It was that eternal flame that would one day magically light up the hearts and minds of my sister and I as we embarked on our journeys to a life living in the embrace of G-d.
But as we snuggle around our candelabras that light up the dark winter sky, what in fact are we even celebrating? Jewish and biblical history is replete with miracles and significant events, most of which we don’t dedicate an eight-day long celebration. We find endless miraculous occurrences in the Torah and the later prophets. Yet, they are less known because they don’t have a dedicated day of remembrance.
I’d like to suggest three reasons why Chanukah is so unique, with the third perhaps being an added dimension to conventional answers.
Firstly, as we know, there was only enough oil for one night once the Jews entered the temple and discovered the last jug of oil, but it burned for eight long nights. G-d changed the boundaries of nature to perform a miracle so that the Jews could perform the mitzvah of lighting the menorah in the Temple, while new oil was sought. Although many miracles did occur in the Torah, perhaps this one is so demonstrative of G-d’s powers that it was worthy of its own festival. The very item that the miracle was performed with is at the root of understanding its significance.
Our deeper sources teach us that the physical world has six core directions – north, east, south west, up and down. Then you have the item itself, in its whole being, as the seventh aspect. G-d has essentially created the world as a seven-faceted dimension, with not only seven days of the week, but even with what we hear — the seven-note scale, and what we see — color, through the seven-color spectrum.
The number eight in Judaism always signifies above and beyond the physical world. The Hebrew word for eight, shemoneh, has the very same root letters as the Hebrew word for oil, shemen. It was through a miracle with the shemen, oil, that G-d demonstrated the ability to govern the world, if G-d so chooses, through the level of the eighth dimension, which doesn’t rely on the laws of nature, but something much higher and holier. For this reason, we can deduce, Chanukah became the only Rabbinic festival to be decreed on the Jewish people, that has no history in the Jewish bible.
In the prayers we add to our silent standing prayer (Amidah) and also to the blessings after a meal (Birkat HaMazon), we point out that we are celebrating because of the miracles, but also because of the wars that we fought and successfully won. The Jewish people have fought many wars in our history, but the war of the Jews against the Greeks was so fundamental to understanding the essence of G-d that Chanukah became a time to pause, reflect and understand that military battle.
We say that the battle then was ‘the weak against the mighty, the many against the few.’ Completely outnumbered, lacking an arsenal, untrained and unqualified for battle, a group of scholars and students banded together, put their trust in G-d, and decided that if they didn’t stand up for themselves and their Jewish lifestyle, Judaism may have no future. Chanukah therefore represents the moment in our history when G-d showed us that even against the odds, we are a precious vessel, and our covenant with G-d is unshakable, no matter how dismal the circumstances may seem.
On a third dimension, Chanukah reminds us of the hope that is embedded in the spirit of all human souls that things might seem dark, but they will improve. Amazingly, after all we had been through — persecution and war, the Jewish people’s first act is to search for spirituality. It was to find a way to do a mitzvah — to light the menorah whose light our Rabbis teach us spread throughout the whole world. Miraculously, the Jews still had faith in G-d and sought to build anew again, planting new olive trees, opening new Torah learning centers (yeshivot) and seeking an ever deeper connection with their creator.
In short, the Jewish people, led by the Hasmoneans, showed spiritual perseverance. In the bleakest hour, the Jews never forgot their true hero. The Greeks worshipped men and women of prowess, of physical glamour and mastery, but the Jews never forgot that their whole essence and existence came from G-d himself.
We saw similarly that immediately after the liberation from Auschwitz, starving, battered and extraordinarily broken, small groups of survivors gathered to say Kaddish, the mourner's prayer, for the dead amongst them. This year at a JWRP Yom HaShoah program, I heard the testimony of a survivor who was liberated during Passover. One of the very first things he did after he was freed was search for matzah. Can you imagine the herculean strength it must have taken those unbelievable people to still believe in G-d after everything they had seen? This is the miracle of the triumph of the human spirit, the ability to believe even after experiencing death in life.
So this year, when I watch my precious childrens’ hands lighting their own menorahs, with eyes wide and bright, I will remember that even in moments of darkness, we have a precious flame that we pass to every generation, an eternal flame, that is worth persevering for. That eternal flame burns within each and every one of us, and it is no less than a miracle.
Gevura Davis is the Director of Women's Programming for Etz Chaim Philadelphia where she enjoys meeting and connecting with Jewish women of all ages and backgrounds.