Thursday, December 5, 2013

V'Zot Chanuka

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame
Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart

Hannah Senesh

My friend Esther wrote on Facebook that on the eighth night of Chanuka there is a special segula for miracles. You are supposed to light the candles, tell your children/family about a miracle that once happened to you, and then immediately pray for another miracle. The Zohar says that on the eighth night, G-d gathers the angels around Him and says to them “Do you see that woman? She is publicizing a miracle, and publicizing My deeds. Therefore she, and those who are listening to her, deserve another miracle.”

It’s a lovely thought.

But as it happened, this year on the eighth night of Chanuka only one daughter was around for candle-lighting and she wasn't feeling well; certainly NOT in the mood for her mother’s bubba meisas.

And to be perfectly honest, we are a staunchly Ashkenazic family who don’t go in for segulot very much.
And anyway, I never experienced a miracle. They only happen to other people.
But, nonetheless, I tried to think of something.

I never had the sea part in front of me.
Never ate manna.
Never survived a fiery furnace.
Never was rescued from any river.


didn't happen to me

But I suppose all that’s true of most people.

What else?

Once, I was in a terrorist attack but wasn't hurt. (Well, not really in, more like near. Like across the street. I could hear it, but not see it. Does that even count?)
But this is Israel, and there are 1000s of terrorist attacks. Everyone has been near to a terrorist attack.

A couple of times, missiles landed pretty close to me, but I came out unscathed. But this is Israel, and 1000s of missiles land all the time……

This was going nowhere, so I began to think of the entire nature of a miracle. It was, after all, Chanuka, and Chanuka is famous for miracles.

The most famous question concerning Chanukah is, if there was enough oil found in the Holy Temple to last one day and it lasted eight days, why do we celebrate eight days of miracles, when actually the miracle itself only appeared on the second day? In reality, there were only seven days of miracles.
There are many answers to this question. One of the more known ones is that we celebrate the miracle of the victory of the many over the few (the Jews over the Hellenists) on the first day, and on the next seven days we mark the miracle of the oil. Others say that the small vial of oil was divided into eight portions, knowing that it would take 8 days to make more. This way, the menorah in the Temple would be alight at least a small part of each day, until more oil could be procured. However, the small amount of oil lasted all day until it was time to light the menorah again the next day with its own day's portion. Therefore, each day, for all eight days, a miracle did occur. Over the centuries, more and more answers have been given to this question, and there is a book called Ner L’Meah (A Candle for One Hundred) that gives one hundred separate answers.
I found this answer, based on the teachings of Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv – known as the Alter (or elder) of Chelm – very moving and relevant to today.
Rav Simcha Zissel begins by explaining Rambam. This 10th century Rabbi/philosopher/doctor/commentator explains that there are two kinds of miracles; ‘open miracles’ (galui), which are those that obviously go against the rules of nature. An example would be the parting of the Red Sea. Other miracles are ‘hidden’ (nistar). These are occurrences which happen regularly and within a pattern, and are not necessarily seen immediately as a miracle. Intrinsically, however, there is no difference between an open and a hidden miracle.

Rav Simcha Zissel explains that the only difference between the two kinds of miracles is one's perspective. He brings this example:

For forty years manna fell from heaven for the Children of Israel as they wandered in the desert. We, today, consider this a great miracle. However, let's look at it from the perspective of a person of that generation, born in the desert. Every day of his life, he sees the manna fall from the sky. To him this is a natural, regular occurrence. He knows no difference.

And then, one day, along with his people, all of whom were born in the desert, he enters the Land of Israel. Suddenly, the manna stops falling. For this person, there is no food. Where does he find food? Growing inside the earth, growing from the trees!! He has never seen anything like it. For him, this is a great miracle. An even greater miracle is that when he plants a tiny seed, it grows into a large plant! For this desert born man, these are open miracles.
A miraculous everyday pomegranate tree

So now we understand that the only difference between an open and hidden miracle is one of perspective.

The Gemara in Masechet Ta'anit tells a story of Rav Chanina ben Dosa's daughter, who one Friday evening accidentally filled her candelabrum with vinegar instead of oil. She became distraught, but her father comforted her by telling her "He, who says that oil should burn, will say that vinegar should burn!" She lit the vinegar and it burned throughout the Shabbat.
Rav Simcha Zissel of Chelm explains that the miracle which occurred in this Talmudic episode is not that the vinegar burned, but that oil burns at all!
Explaining the eight days of Chanukah, the open miracle is that the small amount of oil 'unnaturally' lasted for eight days. But the first miracle (which we mark by lighting a candle on the first day of Chanuka) is that oil burns at all!
The Greeks and the Hellenists tried to forbid all those mitzvot which did not seem to have a practical purpose. Circumcision? Why scar a perfect body? Shabbat? Why sit in the dark when you can just reach and put on the lights?
There is absolutely no practical use to the chanukiya. We are not allowed to use its lights for any purpose. The only function of the chanukiya is its function as a mitzvah. Therefore lighting it is our way of proclaiming – all these years – that we recognize G-d's miracles – open and hidden. We recognize His domination over us, and that we are blessed and sanctified by doing His mitzvot.
The relevance of this story to today’s generation – or anyone under the age of 65 – is this:

Like the desert-born man who was born into a world where manna was an every day occurrence, we were born into a world where the state of Israel had always existed. We have never lived in a world without Israel being here, protecting us. Those who were on earth before Israel became a state recognized, then, the open miracle that had occurred. But we, whose perspective is different, might not recognize or appreciate how great a miracle we are living every day.
So here are eight (of the many) miracles in my life; one for each night.

1. After ten years of waiting, our lemon tree just grew two lemons.
2. I make the best lemon meringue pie I've ever tasted.
3. I live in a place that not only has lemon trees in the yards, but also has palm trees in the boulevards in the middle of the streets (this to someone who grew up in the old country is quite neat).
4. I have five amazing wonderful sabra children.
5. I was blessed to marry off my son, so now I have six amazing wonderful sabra children.
6. I also have an enormously gorgeous sabra grandson, which means that my husband and I have grown even deeper roots in the Land.
7. I watched my grandson celebrate his very first Chanuka
8. It rained last night.
9. (One more for good luck) 2500 years later, we're still lighting Chanuka candles.

Chanuka is over. May we all be blessed with many more miracles.