DAY 1251: The Miracle of Hanukkah — Choosing to Act and Have Faith As Jews

December 3, 2015
By bethmordecai
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DAY 1251: The Miracle of Hanukkah — Choosing to Act and Have Faith As Jews

Reflections on thoughts leading to Sunday’s Hanukkah Party (see below after the text)

אך עיקר הנס היה בחנוכה מה שניצחו החשמונאים במתי מספר את היונים שהיו מולכים בכל העולם והיו עם רב. אבל הנס שהיה בשמן היה רק מצד ה’ יתברך שהיה חביבה לפניו הדלקה זו. שישרארל מצידם כיון שטימאו כל השנים וללא היה להם שמן היו פטורים ממצות הדלק המנורה; דאונס רחמנא פטריה. וכל שכן שלא היו מחויבים למסור נפשם בעד מצוה זו. רק שהראה ה’ יתברך אז שחביבה הדלקת המנורה לפניו והמציא לפניהם בנס שמן להדלקת הנרות.

    – רב צדוק הכוהן מלובלין — פרי צדק בראשית לחנוכה

The essential miracle of Hanukkah was the Maccabees, with only a small number, defeating the Greeks who controlled the world and had a large nation. However, the miracle of the oil [lasting 8 days] came only from God, May God be Blessed, who deeply appreciated the lighting [of the menorah in the Temple]. Israel was not required to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the candles [in the Temple] because all of the oil was impure; God absolved them [from performing this mitzvah]. All the more so, lighting candles in the Temple [was not important enough] for Israel to lose their lives over it. [Yet,] only when God saw [the Maccabees] light the candles [even though the did not have to] that God greatly appreciated [what they chose to do] and as such performed the miracle in which the oil lit the candles [for eight nights]
   – Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin — P’ri Tzedek (opening section on Hanukkah)


Dear Hevreh,

What is the miracle of Hanukkah that we are supposed to publicize? In the text above we read of two miracles — the first is the Maccabees’ military defeat of the Greeks and the second is God making the oil last for eight days. But as the text says, only the miracle of the Maccabees’ victory is essential (עיקר). Why is it essential? Because it was a human decision to fight on behalf of Judaism. As I wrote in my bulletin article for December, they could’ve joined their assimilated brothers and sisters who no longer felt that Jewish religious practice was necessary. But they felt compelled to fight on behalf of their feelings for the Jewish faith and the miracle is that in the face of so much adversity to simply “give in,”, the Maccabees fought to act as Jews. So too we should make our Jewish identity precious and always fight to uphold our right and obligation to do things that are Jewish.

The essence of this miracle then is choice. We have the choice to act Jewishly even when society says we should not (i.e. the Greeks) or we don’t have to (i.e. Today). That’s why the second miracle is also important because choice of identity is also a choice of faith. As Rabbi Tzadok says, God was not expecting the Maccabees to fight to light the candles in the Temple because the oil was “impure.” Rather the Maccabees chose to perform that religious duty, to express their love and faith in God, and once God saw that choice made by the Maccabees, God responded with a sense of deep appreciation that free will can lead to robust faith.

As we come together to celebrate this Hanukkah may our choices lead us to making the miracle of Hanukkah apart of our core — to act as Jews and to have faith as Jews.

Kol Tuv and Hag Urim Sameah,

Rabbi Ari Saks

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