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 Chanukah is a time of the commemoration of miracles that happened to our ancestors in previous times, but at this time of the year. Miracles are always present in our lives and in world events. The ultimate definition of a miracle, in human terms, is that something unexpected and unforeseen happened, and it proved beneficial to the individual or society to which it occurred. This definition really takes miracles out of the realm of superstition and occult powers and makes them part of our natural, everyday world. It is simply that events occur that we are unaware of or never really believe would occur.

This certainly is the case of the miracles of Chanukah. Even though the main miracle that we commemorate is truly a wondrous event – the fact that oil in the lamp should have sufficed only for one day and it lasted for eight days –this is not the sole miracle that the holiday represents. As we recite in the special prayer dedicated to the holiday in our prayer service, there are other wondrous events that also occurred to our ancestors at this time of the year. In fact, the prayer itself outlines for us what some of those miracles were. They include the fact that the weak overcame the strong and that good triumphed over evil and the few were entirely successful against the many. All these things qualify as being miraculous even though they occurred through human effort and intervention and seemingly were part of the natural scheme of things at that time. This really helps us understand the true nature of what we humans term miraculous events.
In the prayer that we recite on this holiday, we acknowledge the miracles that the Lord performed for us in our struggles and wars against the Greeks long ago. The simple understanding of this is that in all wars unforeseen events occur and on both the level of the individual soldier and of the general outcome of the war, there is adequate room for people to feel that miracles occurred. However, on a deeper level, the fact that the small band of Jews devoted to Jewish tradition and Torah values went to war for their spiritual survival is itself to be judged as being miraculous.
Good people are often, if not always, peace-loving and averse to violence and certainly war. There is a tendency that the good allow themselves to be persecuted and intimidated by evil forces rather than standing up and fighting for their values and their survival. The story of this holiday teaches us that there are times when our survival spiritually as a people – as the chosen people – is dependent upon our willingness to fight for our cause and our future. When that happens, it is natural to feel that this is all part of the rational world that we supposedly live in. However, again on a deeper level, such a response borders on the miraculous and the prayers of this holiday reflect this in a most positive and clear fashion.
We also now live in a miraculous time. There is no other way that we can characterize the events of the last century of Jewish life except by reverting to the miraculous and even supernatural guidance that has steered us through this terribly turbulent century. Of course. we are living examples of the statement of the Talmud that one who experiences miracles does not recognize the events occurring as being especially incredible. But based on rational expectations and patterns of history, none of the events that have befallen the Jewish people over the past century can be considered as being normal or rational.
One of these events, through the presence of the State of Israel, the Jewish people rose up in defense of their faith and national destiny and for the first time in millennia took up arms and defeated their enemies. This is part of the story of miracles that happened long ago but are relevant and alive in our time as well. The message of this holiday is subtle and enduring. We should be cognizant of our miraculous states of being and grateful to the Almighty for allowing us to see and participate in this modern, ongoing miracle.
Shabbat shalom
Happy Chanukah
Berel Wein

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