The Miracle of Hannukah
R’ Moshe Haim Luzzato (Ramhal), in his classic work Derech Hashem, writes that the events on which our holidays are based upon are revisited every year. The theme of redemption is most pretentious on Pesah, when we celebrate the salvation of the Jewish people from the hands of the Egyptians. On Shavuot, the potency for success in Torah reaches its highest – a reflection of Matan Torah, which took place on the 6th of Sivan hundreds of years ago. It thus follows that on Hanuka, a holiday which serves as a remembrance for the impossible victory of the minute Jewish army over the mighty Greeks and of the beloved wonder involving the oil which lasted for 8 days, there is a higher level of potential for miraculous occurrences. We shall try today to aim for a deeper understanding of the mechanics behind miracles, and the way to view them through the lenses of our Torah.
The Ramban asks a thought-provoking question in Perashat Noah1 regarding the ark which carried Noah, his family and all living animals through the apocalyptic flood. While the ark itself was quite large – approximately 472 ft. in length2 – it was not nearly spacious enough to contain two of each species. The amount of creatures which were brought on the ark was beyond count. If so, poses the Ramban, since we are obviously relying on what can be nothing less than an open miracle, why couldn’t the measurements of the ark have been made smaller? At the end of the day, it will just be a much bigger miracle!
The reason Hashem didn’t direct Noah in this fashion was because it’s against the nature of miracles. Hashem desires to make miracles as small as possible; that man will make his efforts towards making it look natural, and the rest will be taken care of by G-d through miraculous means3.
This principle leads us to another important foundation. The Gemara, in many places, forbids us to depend on miracles.4 Perhaps the most graphic depiction of this concept can be found in Masechet Megila5 which tells us of a Purim feast held by R’ Zeira. As is customary, the guests had consumed lots of wine, to the point where Rabbah inadvertently severed R’ Zeira’s head. Fortunately, after fervent prayer for mercy on R’ Zeira, he was revived. The following year, naturally, Rabbah invited R’ Zeira to his Purim feast. To which R’ Zeira responded with our rule: “I can’t rely on such a miracle to save me again.”
Likewise, our Sages instruct us to stay away from dangerous places and situations which will require us to fall back on a miracle. The reason for this law is twofold: a) Maybe the miracle won’t happen; b) Even if it does, and the individual is saved, it will detract from his or her merits. This was recently expressed in Perashat Vayishlach, when Yaakov Avinu heard news that his wicked brother Eisav, along with 400 troops, was coming to kill him. He cried out to Hashem – “I have become small from all the kindness…that You did for [me]”6. Rashi, on that verse7, explains he was concerned that perhaps he had no merit to win the battle, since it was all taken away after all the good Hashem had given him.8 We see, then, that not only is it inadvisable to throw oneself into a situation which would necessitate a miracle to get out of – but even when a miracle does occur, there is legitimate reason for apprehension.
This being true, one could ask – why is nearly every Jewish holiday is based on miracles?!
I believe the answer to be very simple. All the little points aside, the fact is that getting out of a desperate situation is much more advantageous than staying in one. When Hashem, in His merciful ways, acts for us and intervenes with never-ending spectacular wonders, it’s only right to recognize and celebrate.
Miracles are always happening to each Jew, many times daily. We are given holidays throughout the year to redirect our attention to them. They are veiled to us through the curtain of nature, but it is evident and clear to the one with an attuned mind what they really are. R’ Eliyahu Dessler zt”ltells it as follows: If someone were to stand behind a door to a room, inside of which is a man on a chair writing with a pen, and could peek inside only through a small section of a keyhole, he would only see a pen moving on paper and nothing else. He would exclaim, “I can’t believe that pen is writing on its own!”. If another part of the keyhole were to be removed, he’d see a hand moving the pen. He would say, “What a miracle! That hand is controlling the pen on its own!”. Finally, we remove the door, and he sees that the hand was not magically writing, but was only carrying out the will of its owner, the man on the chair. A Jew should accustom himself to not only spot the miracle, but see beyond the miracle, and acknowledge Hashem’s hand running the show.
As Hanuka comes to a close, there is still time to take advantage of the “sparks” originated from the flame of the miraculous oil and the roaring victory of the Hashmonaim, which continue to carry down to us every year at this time. It’s miracle season, and they are waiting to be taken.
1 Ramban on Bereshit 6:19
2 Based on measurements listed in Bereshit 6:15
3 This idea requires much study, especially in its application to those who are involved in Torah study.
4 Pesahim 64b
6 Bereshit 32:11
7 Based on Berachot 4a
8 The Siftei Hahamim wonders: How could he have been concerned that merit taken away from him through miracles and kindness will play a part in losing to his brother? After all, the Gemarain Shabat 55a clearly notes that death or tribulation can’t come about unless there is an element of sin involved. Therefore, Rashi adds that he was also afraid that his sins may play a part in losing to his brother. It was a combination of the two factors which acted as the source for his fear.