I. MIRACLES: OPEN AND HIDDEN (Based on Sifsay
Chayim, II, pp. 13-20)
"What is [the reason the Sages established] Chanukah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev [commence] the days of Chanukah, which are eight, on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day's lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with [the recital of] Hallel [special Psalms of praise added to the morning prayers] and thanksgiving." (Soncino translation)
Note that the Talmud mentions only one miracle here--the miracle of the oil. That seems to have been the immediate catalyst for the rabbinic creation of this holiday, whose defining characteristic--interestingly enough--is "thanksgiving."
Yet, if we look at the declaration (also authored by our Sages) which we recite immediately after lighting the Chanukah menorah, we find a rather different emphasis than in the Talmudic passage:
"These lights we kindle for the miracles, the wonders, the salvations and the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days at this season through Your holy priests [e.g., the Maccabees, who were from a family of Kohanim]..."
Here, there is reference to miracles, in the plural;
the military victory is directly alluded to (battles), while the flask of oil is not.
How do we explain the difference in language and focus between the Talmud and this
paragraph from the prayer book?
As Ramban (Nachmanidies) notes, the whole Torah is based on "hidden" miracles:
"Scripture mentions miracles performed through a prophet and which he previously prophesied, or performed by an angel who is revealed in the course of a Divine mission, but those effected naturally in order to help the righteous or destroy the wicked are not mentioned in the Torah or in the books of the prophets...Why should Scripture mention hidden miracles when all the foundations of the Torah are hidden miracles. In the entire scope of the Torah, there are only miralces, and no nature or custom...all the assurances of the Torah concerning those blessings [which will result from our observance of the Law], and all the good fortune of the righteous ones because of their righteousness ... and all our prayers, all are founded upon miracles and wonders, except that there is no heralded change in the nature of the world..." (Bereishis 46, 15; translation by Rabbi Chavel).
The function of (infrequent) open miracles is to wake
us up to the fact of the hidden miracles, which are constant.
Another reason the Talmud focuses on the miracle of the oil is because that unambiguously points up that the salvation of the Jewish people was a spiritual one: the oil was used to light the golden menorah in the Temple, that very Temple which had so aroused the ire of the Greeks, and which they had defiled. In Torah sources, oil represents the purity of the Jews in their service unto G-d; the light of the Temple's menorah represents the Divine wisdom of the Torah, far above the human intellect so dear to the Greeks. Antiochus, remember, wanted to wipe out our religion--not our physical selves, per se (as did Haman and Hitler). His war was with our purity, our way of life, our Torah--our dedication to standards and statutes beyond human conception. And these are what the Maccabees were fighting for, not merely political autonomy.
How very relevant Chanukah is in present-day America, as it poses to us the question of where we place our deepest cultural loyalty: to a human-centered philosophy and secular way of life (whose roots can be traced back to Hellenism), or to a G-d-centered life of Torah and mitzvos.
With the miracle of the oil, Hashem showed us how precious the Temple service--and, by extension, our whole observance of the Torah--was to Him. Our response was to establish a holiday of thanksgiving for all generations. "Thank You, Hashem, for saving us physically, so that we may resume (and redouble) our efforts to grow spiritually. Thank You for Your miracles on behalf of Your people."
To be grateful for the spiritual riches we have as Jews, whatever our present level of observance; to be proud of the purity in the depth of the Jewish soul, however encrusted it may be from the tinsel of the season, or the temptations of the time (and we all have our share of crust, rust and--to quote a happy phrase from an American rock-and-roller--truth decay); to contemplate the awesome self-sacrifice of the Maccabees (who took up arms to defend the Torah expecting no miracles, but simply placing their trust in Hashem), and of so many like them in Jewish history...this is something, perhaps, we can all aim for this Chanukah. Happy lighting!
I WILL BE AWAY FOR TWO WEEKS, AND THERE WILL BE NO KOLLEL INSIGHTS UNTIL PARSHAS SHEMOS, G-D WILLING.
AT THAT TIME, I WILL TRY TO WRITE MORE ABOUT GRATITUDE, AS I MENTIONED (PROMISED?) LAST WEEK.
STARTING TUESDAY, JANUARY 19TH, AT 7:45 AT THE J.EA., ISSUES IN MODERN JEWISH HISTORY--A 5-WEEK SURVEY OF THE LAST 250 YEARS OF JEWISH HISTORY. DON'T MISS IT.
Edelstein is Director
of the Savannah Torah Education Project (STEP). Phone: 912-355-0157;
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