The miracle of Chanukah is defined by a small cruz of oil that when lit, lasted for eight whole days. There is an important message we can glean from this unusual miracle. On the surface it seems insignificant, but if you look deeper at the story, you will see an everlasting message that has stood by us as a result of this wonder.
At the time the Jews were fighting with the Greeks over religious freedom. So much of their fight was really over a human democratic right. After all they had been through to defend their identity and their right to religious freedom, they wander in to their Holy Temple only to see it completely desecrated. Imagine the insult to injury they must have felt. First the Greeks try to strip them of their dignity, then their individuality, and finally their holy site, a representation of their very core, their rituals, their way of life.
In last week’s Parsha we learn of the story of Joseph who was sold by his brothers to Egyptions as a slave on the opened market. He was completely abandoned and betrayed by the very people who shared his flesh and blood. His slavery led him to be sold to Potiphar, a high official in the Egyptian court and when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph and was rejected, she falsely accused him of sexual assault and Joseph ended up in prison for twelve years. Throughout this entire dramatic tale, we learn of one miracle in particular that occured while Joseph was on his way to Egypt, after being sold as a slave. The miracle? It is known that the Egyptian people traveled with harsh smelling incense such as pitch and tar and probably a strain of pungent and foul smelling pot but G-d made a miracle that while Joseph was traveling with them, the odor turned into a heavenly scent that accompanied him towards his impending life sentence.
Really? This was the big miracle?
A small cruz of oil that lasts a week in a broken Temple and a pleasant smelling ride?
G-d can do better than that- we’ve seen him do better than that! And yet.
Our sages tell us the events that took place in Joseph’s life were unavoidable. After all, as a result of his capture, he met the baker and the butcher. He translated their dreams, and when they got out of prison and the King was up with unexplainable dreams, they referred the King to Joseph…and the rest became history. Joseph’s circumstances landed him in the exact place he was meant to be to save the entire world from famine, for it was his ingenious and know how during the famine that annointed him Viceroy over the entire nation, which essentially saved his family from starvation and extinction.
The Maccabees had a similar fair, for it was their fight over religious identity, that essentially saved the Jewish people from extinction as well. Physically we would not have been lost as were the times with Josheph, but spiritually we would have assimilated and been lost to the world forever.
Obviously these were obstacles that could not be avoided by our ancestors. These were painful experiences that needed to become our narrative. So how did these miracles really change us? What did they do for us? They didn’t take away any pain, they didn’t keep anyone out of prison or keep anyone from going to war. Why did we need them at all? Lives were still broken. Eventhough the outcome was good, their experiences were still painful- and the miracles seemed futile.
Futile? Or genious?
The sages tell us the miracle of Joseph came as G-d’s way of saying, I know this is painful, I know I am taking you on this treacherous journey, but I am still here with you. Never forget I am still with you and I believe in your inner strength. Like the one pair of footprints in the sand, you may not see me follow you, but it is only because I am on your back. I have not left you. This miracle reminded Joseph that he is not alone and it is what gave him hope, and took away his despair of falling into the trap of feeling completely abandoned, depressed and isolated from his Maker and his true mission on earth.
The small cruz of oil, essentially did the same thing for the beaten Maccabees who had lost all hope. After the first day, the second day, the third day, the fourth day! Eight days later, they realized this was an out of ordinary occurance. The oil burning was G-d’s way of connecting to them and of giving them hope that their quest was not without their Higher Power. And how relevant that it was eight days and not seven. For seven represents nature, it represents the confines of the limited bound by time and space and rules. While eight represents the supernatural, the breaking of our limited beings, which far surpasses our own potential. Eight is hope. Eight is what translates us into a place of seeing our abilities beyond our natural capabilities. Eight is what takes us from ordinary to extoardinary.
Hope, that is the reason we add another candle each night. This is the real miracle to our existance, and the reason we are here, to remind the world, it is not alone. G-d has our backs, even in ultimate despair.
**This essay is dedicated to my new beautiful neice, Brachah Leah Tombosky born this week of Chanukah, the resulting miracle and the ultimate hope for a brighter tomorrow.