Appreciate the Miracles
BY RABBANIT SHARON RIMON
“What is Chanukah?… When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they defiled all of the oils. When the Chashmonai dynasty arose and defeated them, they searched but only found one cruse of oil which retained the stamp of the Kohen Gadol, and which contained enough oil to light for no more than one day. A miracle occurred, and they lit from the oil for eight days. The next year, they instituted those days as a holiday of praise and thanks.” (Shabbat 21b)
Why did our Sages choose to emphasize the miracle of the oil more than the miracle of the military victory? The miracle of the victory is what saved the Jewish nation, an incredible marvel of the few against the many that changed the face of Jewish history. If so, isn’t it more appropriate to mention that as the essence of Chanukah?
This question is magnified in light of the text of עַל הַנִּסִּים , which specifically emphasizes the victory over the Greeks: “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, the wanton into the hands of the diligent students of your Torah. For Yourself, You made a great and holy Name in Your world, and for Your people Israel you worked a great victory and salvation as this very day. Thereafter, Your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified the site of Your Holiness and kindled lights in the courtyards of Your Sanctuary.”
The Maharal explains that although the victory over the Greeks is the main reason for celebrating the holiday, every military victory can be explained naturally. The importance of the miracle of the cruse of oil is that it teaches us G-d’s role in the miracle of the military victory.
This idea is significant not only for Chanukah but for our everyday life. The Ramban explains that the purpose of the revealed miracles of the Torah is so we understand that every single thing that happens, happens through G-d. So we can acknowledge the miracles and wonders that G-d does for us each day.
It seems we can delve even deeper in explaining this. Sometimes we expect a miracle to save us from a certain situation, or to prove G-d’s existence or love for us. This stems from the premise that a miracle is a high level of connection with G-d. Indeed, a miracle is an overt Divine intervention that changes the order of nature. G-d’s presence is very obvious in miracles.
However, when we focus on miracles that G-d has performed for Am Yisrael, we discover something fascinating. Miracles were performed during periods of hardship and suffering, not during the better times.
So it was with the 10 Plagues and the splitting of Yam Suf, the various miracles in the desert, the miracles of Eliyahu and Elisha, and also with Chanukah. When the Jews are in severe distress, physically or spiritually, there is a need for a miracle to save them from their suffering, or to prove G-d’s Providence and existence in the face of the heresy that rules the world.
Should we hope for revealed miracles?
No. As we have mentioned, revealed miracles were performed during times of crisis. In good times, G-d reveals Himself to us through nature. In good times, we act on our own, and we feel G-d’s Hand on our shoulder.
We are privileged to celebrate Chanukah in an uplifting reality in which Am Yisrael have the opportunity to live in their homeland, Medinat Yisrael, with a strong Israel Defense Forces.
When we light Chanukah candles and contemplate their light, let us remember the cruse of oil and G-d’s great love for us. That is what protects us from generation to generation, every hour and every moment. Recognize the Hand of G-d that guided us in the war of the Chashmonaim, that guides us in the process of the redemption we are privileged to be part of, and that illuminates our path morning, noon and night.
Rabbanit Sharon Rimon teaches Tanach and is Content Editor for the HaTanakh website.