By Rabbi Ilana Krygier Lapides
(AJNews) – “A Jew is asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of faith.”- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
Our sages ask an interesting question about Chanukah: We light candles for eight nights to acknowledge the miracle of the oil burning for eight nights. But technically (and let’s be honest, our Rabbis were very concerned with these kinds of technicalities) the actual miracle only happened on nights two through eight. The oil was always going to last at least one night – so that first night isn’t a miracle so much as an experiential reality. So, why do we light for eight nights instead of just seven? Seven would make sense: Seven days in a week, seven days to create the world, we wouldn’t even have to make new menorahs! But, no, the miracle is eight days. Why?
Rabbi Jonathan Saks z”l postulates: “There was no reason to suppose that anything would have survived the systematic desecration the Greeks and their supporters did to the Temple, yet the Maccabees searched and found that one jar. Why did they search? Because they had faith that from the worst tragedy something would survive. The miracle of the first night was that of faith itself, the faith that something would remain with which to begin again.”
For Rabbi Saks, the miracle begins not when the Jews found the oil and lit it that first day, but well before that when they demonstrated the faith to even look. To then go ahead and light the oil knowing that it could not possibly last, is an additional expression of faith that is reflected in our partnership with Hashem and with hope.
One of our central blessings during this holiday is Al Hanisim: “For the miracles and for the redemption and for the mighty deeds and for the victories and for the battles that You performed for our fathers in those days at this time.” It is a bittersweet prayer that expresses our reluctance to have to fight but understands that it’s sometimes vital for our survival. As Rabbi Elisha Friedman says: “Winning a war against those bent on destroying one’s way of life demands gratitude, but it is not a celebration. War is always unpleasant, even if one wins. It involves the loss of life and inflicting suffering on others. It is a moment to soberly reflect on the tremendous blessings surrounding us — including the painful and difficult victory over our enemies.”
This Chanukah brings many challenges amidst its usual blessings. We walk with heavy hearts, grief clutches at our throats when we wake in the mornings, our anxiety propels us through the day. We are traumatized and exhausted. Should we put a Chanukiah in the window this year? Do we leave up our Mezuzah for all to see? Should I tuck-in my Magen David necklace? No one can answer these questions for you – it’s a personal question that must be faced by each of us; there are those of us who will be bold and brazen, there will be others who are more discreet. We must all do what we feel is best to stay safe, to survive, to see another day, to make sure our legacy and our light continues.
As we support our brothers and sisters in Israel, we pray and help bolster their spirits with our messages and songs. We also send resources and money, call out antisemitism when we see it, and attend community events to say, “we are here.’ As Jews we must acknowledge that freedom is not free, and the cost is always much more than our hearts can pay. But it must be paid.
As per the quote from Rabbi Heschel z”l above, it is faith plus action that makes us who we are. One without the other leaves us powerless and without hope. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat says: “We are partners with God in making space for the miraculous. We must not expect God to perform miracles to redeem us while we sit back and wait.”
Chanukah teaches us that the miracle of the oil couldn’t have happened without the military victory, and a military victory doesn’t mean anything unless we stay true to who we are: Am Israel Chai.
From my family to yours, Chag Chanukah Sameach!
Rabbi Ilana Krygier Lapides is the Assistant Rabbi at the Beth Tzedec Congregation, the Jewish Community Chaplain through Jewish Family Service Calgary, and has a small, independent Rabbinic practice through RockyMountainRabbi.c