NOVEMBER 29, 2018 – The Monday after 11 Jews were murdered in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, just as morning minyan was letting out, a neighbor and his young son stopped by Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly. They brought us homemade, heart-shaped cookies and a card expressing their concern for their Jewish friends.
That same week, as in congregations across the country, our sanctuary also was filled during a vigil and Shabbat services. Faith and political leaders, our chief of police, friends, neighbors, and people of good will came to provide comfort and support to their local Jewish community.
An increase in violence and hate-mongering already had caused so much fear and suffering amongst groups of vulnerable or targeted people. This outpouring of compassion and action helped lift many of us out of the darkness and despair into which we had been sinking. In addition, as many of my Beverly Multifaith Coalition colleagues emphasized, this was also a moment that proved how much relationships matter, and how we can turn up for each other.
This is a time to celebrate Hanukkah miracles, when a small band of rebels defeated a great army, and a cruse of oil lasted for eight days. While the Torah includes accounts of plagues and the parting of a sea, the later Hanukkah story tells of a very different kind of miracle – just the kind to inspire us today.
The Sefat Emet, a Hasidic commentator who lived during the 19th century, writes “…when God performed a miracle for our ancestors, they would be sustained by it for some period of time. When the light of that miracle vanished, God would have to perform another for them.” He is referring to those grand miracles recounted in the Torah. He continues, “Since God hasn’t done any further big miracles, it therefore stands to reason that we’re still being sustained by the light of the Hanukkah miracle.”
In other words, if we needed another major miracle, God would give us one; since God hasn’t given us one, we must not need it. Well… we might beg to differ as we look at history and the world today. However, note that Hasidic texts have layers of meaning.
The Sefat Emet adds that the Hanukkah miracle has the power to sustain us until the Messianic Age, when the work of healing the world will be complete. Why is this particular miracle the one to keep us going?
It’s a human-sized miracle. It’s something we can reproduce, lighting our small, bright flames against the literal and metaphorical darkness, increasing light day by day. The parting of the sea and the plagues were all God. But the hope it took to rekindle the menorah in the Temple in Jerusalem was a human leap of faith.
That is why it’s the miracle that’s going to keep us alight and alive: it’s the miracle we created. This is the miracle we need to hold onto if we are going to continue acting to bring light into darkness in our own time.
When we kindle the Hanukkah lights, let’s sit with them, take in their light and their brilliance, and contemplate the miracles they represent.
Let us recall the faith and courage our people have had, generation after generation.
Let us give thanks for the acts of courage and kindness we have seen in the past year.
May we continue to work to build relationships, and to be there for each other, because that is the antidote to fear and hate.
And may our faith and sacred teachings inspire us to bring about a better world based on love, kindness, and justice.
There indeed is something miraculous about having hope, and about being human, and all we can accomplish together.
My family and I wish you all a light-filled holiday, with much joy and inspiration. Happy Hanukkah.
Rabbi Alison Adler leads Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly.