Those of us who celebrate Hanukkah know the words – “A Great Miracle Happened There.” We play dreidel with those words in the back of our minds. Some of us even make up silly songs with those words. But, they are serious words.
Many of us go through life looking for proof of God’s existence or influence on our lives. So, when we hear about a great miracle having taken place, you’d think that we would take a few moments to consider what exactly happened. However, most of us cling to the “lite” version of events that we learned as children: there was only enough oil for one day, but miraculously it lasted for eight days.
We know from the Book of Maccabees that Hanukkah – the festival of the re-dedication of the Temple – lasted for eight days because the victorious Israelites chose to belatedly celebrate Sukkot with lulavs and etrogs. Sukkot was the most popular festival in the Second Temple period. So, celebrating it two months late was better than not celebrating it all.
So, what was the miracle?
If we turn to the one major piece of liturgy created for Hanukkah – the V’Al Ha-Nissim – we get a better idea. There’s no mention of oil jugs or long-lasting flames. Instead, the rabbis thanked God – and ask us to thank God – who “delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few.” THAT is the miracle – a tiny, weak minority was able stand up to a powerful majority and ensure its survival. The miracle is that we are still here to tell the story of our ancestors.
Ever since that time, we have been supporters of the little guys and underdogs. When any Jewish community experience persecution or oppression, the story of the Maccabees gave them hope. When tiny, newborn Israel was attacked by all her neighbors, her brave defenders found inspiration in the story of the Maccabees.
This year, as we light the Hanukkah lights and talk about the great miracle, let’s also remember that we are not the only minority that has felt outnumbered and overpowered by a surrounding majority. We are not the only minority to feel that we must stand up in order to ensure our survival.
Many of us are blessed to live in tranquil towns where coexistence is taken for granted. People of different faiths, races, nationalities and sexual orientations live side by side peaceably. However, we know that this is not the case everywhere. We read the stories. We see the videos. But, what can we do?
One thing we can do is come together with people who are different from us, declaring together that we are all God’s creatures and we are all of value in this world. In joining such a gathering, we have the opportunity to shape the world as God would have it – ensuring that no group feels endangered and no group is permitted to harm another.
We have the opportunity to do just that this Sunday, December 21st, 6:00pm on the Village Green here in Summit. I hope that some of you will join me.
Click here for more details about the gathering.