What Miracle? by Rabbi David Weizman
Upon settling in Pinellas county in the summer of 2002, I received some friendly advice from a long time resident. “Do you wear that kippah on your head all the time? ‘Cause if you do, you need some eyes on the back of your head too.” Not too long after that, there was a swastika painted on the sidewalk of the path we take home from shul. On another walk home on Friday night a guy was ranting from his garage about so and so, “that dirty Jew.” We have had people yell anti-Semitic things out the window and a group of girls once saluted us with the hiel Hitler sign. It was at that moment that I realized, we are not in New York City any more. It’s the kind of thing that most Jewish people in America thought was left back in Europe under the ashes of the Shoah. But last year, 2017, was a banner year for anti-Semitic acts according to the Anti-Defamation League, who keeps track of these things. One might think that after Charlottesville, there would have been such a public outcry to denounce the conspiracy theory that “the Jews will not replace us,” which would have pushed back such hate speech into the realm of the taboo where it was hibernating. That bear was awoken evidently, feeling hungry. And then there was Pittsburgh. I am not a guy who walks around in fear of getting shot for being a Jew, but you have to wonder … what’s going on here?
That’s exactly what the rabbis of the Talmud asked about two thousand years ago: mai hanukah? What is the reason for a Hanukah celebration? Surely they knew the whole story from that best seller, Maccabees I & II. What they conclude is that a miracle occurred, and it was not that a small band of brothers defeated Antiochus Epiphanies, a guy not so keen on Judaism. The miracle was that a small cruse of purified oil lasted for eight days until they could acquire more for the Menorah of the Holy Temple. Maybe the rabbis were trying to justify eating latkes and doughnuts with their focus on the oil, or maybe they liked the metaphor of making a little bit go a long way. It characterizes us as a people: few in number but able to shine a great light into the history of the world. Reflectors of the Divine light, of course, that manifests in creativity and productivity, in kindness and mercy.
The Talmud instructs us to place our lights of Hanukah outside the door so that it can be seen from the street, pirsume nissah, to publicize the miracle. But in times of danger, it is sufficient to leave them on the table. Is this such a time in America today? Who would even notice, with all of the Christmas lights, a little menorah in the window? But when the whole house is dark, save those few candles, people notice. Keep on shining.
Hag Urim Sameachi,
Rabbi David Weizman