During the holiday of Hanukkah, beginning this year the evening of December 11, 2009 the Jewish community celebrates and commemorate two miracles that transpired long ago in Israel in the 2nd century BCE. The first miracle is that a small band of Jews, the Maccabees, prevailed militarily over a superpower, the Syrian-Greeks, against all odds. These Jews won independence, reclaiming the holy temple in Jerusalem and saving the Jewish community from persecution and destruction. The second miracle was that when the victory was complete and the Jews entered the Temple which was desecrated, there was only enough pure, holy oil to last for one day to keep the menorah lit. Instead it lasted eight days, which allowed just enough time to produce the necessary pure oil for continued and uninterrupted use of the menorah in the Temple.
The nature of each of these two miracles is different. The first miracle was one that came as a result of human intervention and human action. Perhaps, the soldiers were inspired by God and perhaps God played a role in the victory, but without human actions the victory would not have happened. The miracle of the oil, on the other hand, was a supernatural miracle, which required a divine act independent of human control or action. The achievements and blessings of the Hanukkah story is one, therefore, that happened in partnership, between humans and the divine, between us and God. This is one of my favorite teachings of Hanukkah. When human talent, wisdom, and skill is combined with a sense of holiness and reverence for God, amazing things can happen. This year, I ask us all to reflect on this teaching and think of ways that we can use our own individual and communal assets to partner with God to make the world a better place.
Rabbi Brad Horwitz