I write to you as we close out our celebration of Chanukah. As the glow emanating from all nine candles on this last night fills my eyes and my soul, I reflect on the discussion that took place centuries ago about how we should use the Chanukah menorah and celebrate this festival.
It is said that the school of Hillel and Shammai each took a different position about how to properly represent the miracle of Chanukah. The House of Shammai taught that even though the oil, thought only enough to burn for one day, actually burned for eight days…each day some of the oil was consumed. Therefore, they reasoned, we should begin with all eight lights on the first night of Chanukah and then take one away each of the next seven nights.
The House of Hillel argued the exact opposite. The fact that each successive day the light continued to burn brightly only amplified the magnitude of the miracle. Therefore, they reasoned, each night we should add candles to represent the growing awe our ancestors must have felt as they returned to the Temple and saw the light still glowing from the sole cruse of oil.
Today, of course, we follow the custom of the House of Hillel, adding one more candle as each day of Chanukah passes. We can tap into the awe that our ancestors felt and bring it into this moment today. This sense of awe, inspired by the miracle of Chanukah, was reflected in the very light itself. And this light, and the feeling it creates, can be a part of how we embrace each and every day.
When we wake up in the morning, it is indeed a miracle. The words we are given to recite in that moment thank God for returning the gift of our soul to us. As we move through our day the miracle of life continues. We eat and our bodies are able to convert food into energy. The fact that we can eliminate the excess through the finely balanced network of our digestive system is also miraculous. The miracles grow throughout our day as we move our bodies and communicate with other people. We are surrounded by the miracles of God’s creation even though we, at times, walk sightless through our day.
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, Joseph is able to acknowledge and share with his brothers the miracle that has been his life thus far. Joseph can see the miracle of his position within Pharoah’s court. He can connect the dots and not see evil, bad luck, or bad intention in the past on the part of his brothers or even Potiphar’s wife. Instead, he sees the hand of God and the miraculous way he was able to dream and then act. Joseph even senses the miraculous nature of reuniting with his brothers and then with his dad.
The greatest miracle we can experience is seeing the sacred within the ordinary. Each and every moment presents us with that opportunity. May the lights of Chanukah still aglow in our mind’s eye, joined with the light of the Shabbat candles, illuminate the sacred within the ordinary, revealing the miraculous nature of this life we are privileged to live.