A Hanukkah miracle is needed to enlighten a world of darkness
While most Jews are familiar with the Hanukkah legend of one day’s supply of oil lasting for 8 days, many are unaware of the longest spin of a dreidel, set by astronaut David Wolf, which lasted one and a half hours and traversed a distance of 25,000 miles while he orbited the Earth on Hanukkah 1997. No matter where it is celebrated, Hanukkah is “out of this world” and provides transcendence to lofty heights of spirituality.
The letters of the dreidel convey the message of the holiday, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham (a great miracle happened there). In Israel the letter “shin” is swapped for a “pey” meaning “A great miracle happened here” (and sometimes you need to “pay” for it with great sacrifice). The word “here” not only means “here in Israel” but also means that miracles can happen “here in our time”, not just in ancient days. The Hebrew letter “pey” could also stand for another Hebrew word “pnima” (“within”), meaning that a miracle lies within each of us. As Margaret Meade famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of dedicated people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” We Jews are that small group of dedicated people, changing the world “yiddle by yiddle” as candles in the dark.
United, Jews defeated the Assyrian Greeks, brought a moral code to the world, outlasted our enemies, and in modern times, established a vibrant Democracy in Israel out of the ashes of the holocaust, and for the first time in history, revived an ancient language, long thought dead. Thus, David Ben Gurion, leader of Israel’s War of Independence and its first Prime Minister, famously declared, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”
However, our people has also experienced that when divided, the friction among us brings the twirling dreidel to a halt, and it falls to the ground. And when blind faith and obedience to authority replace the light of reason, the flame of the menorah gutters, and our role as a light to the nations is imperiled.
Shortly after the Hasmoneans defeated the Greeks and purified the Temple, their ideals collapsed under the crushing weight of ponderous ritual, political corruption and friction among the people. As is evident by their names, the brothers Aristobulus and Hyrcanus, who vied for the Judean throne approximately one century after Judah Maccabee’s historic triumph, forgot their proud heritage and adopted Greek ways, turning from Maccabee to macabre. This internecine conflict brought an end to Jewish freedom, as they invited the Roman general Pompey into the holy land, to resolve their dispute, which was like inviting the wolf to guard the hen house. Continued squabbling between the Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots and other Jewish sects, weakened our people to such an extent that the Romans easily conquered Judea in 70 C.E., destroying the Temple, ending Jewish independence, and sending our people into bitter exile, pogroms and persecution for nearly 2000 years.
To disguise Hanukkah’s true nature as a Jewish Independence Day, from their Roman overlords, an innocuous legend was told that Hanukkah really celebrated a miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting eight days. Today, Israel is leading the charge to get rid of oil altogether as an energy source, convinced that global warming threatens to drive her into the rising seas, as her Arab neighbors have dreamed in vain of doing. While some consider it impossible to solve climate change, and our President fiddles while California burns, and come “hell or high water” denies science with arguments that don’t hold water and are full of hot air, Israel, inspired by visionaries like Ben Gurion and Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism who said, “If you will it, it is no dream,” is seeking solutions to save humanity from this crisis.
Each generation of Jews must take up its dreidel and add its own spin to ancient traditions, and light the candle of reason, to dispel the darkness. Hanukkah, which means “dedication” motivates us to dedicate our lives to working towards the dream of a brighter tomorrow. In the aftermath of Pittsburgh, and rising anti-Semitism, we, the descendants of the Maccabees, stand strong as one people, and declare “Never Again” will Jews be powerless against threats to ourselves, others, and our precious planet.
If you would like to comment on this article, you may reach Rabbi Barry Silver at firstname.lastname@example.org