We will soon be celebrating the miracle of Hanukkah. Or, more accurately, the miracles of Hanukkah. We light candles for eight days to commemorate the extraordinary staying power of one small cruse of oil for eight days when the Hasmoneans recaptured and rededicated the Temple. But what about the Hasmonean victory over the Seleucid Greeks? Wasn’t that also miraculous?
Throughout Hanukkah, in our blessings of gratitude (when we pray and after we eat), we include ‘Al Hanissim–“for the miracles.” What are miracles? The passage, which was composed in the 9th century C.E., uses a number of terms for events for which we are thankful: “Nissim, purkan, gevurot, teshu’ot, milhamot–miraculous, deliverance, heroism, salvation, and [military] triumphs.” When we read the paragraph closesly, we’ll see that there is more about the military campaign than about long-lasting oil. Yet in the Talmud, the focus is on the oil, with only passing mention of the Maccabees.
At our lunch and learn following Shabbat morning services, we’ll look at this passage, and study a story from the Talmud that might help us understand what our tradition means by “miracles.” And we’ll see why we Jews asssert that miracles are not only the purview of God.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,