NO ATHEISTS IN A FOXHOLE

Previous Chapter

CHAPTER EIGHT

When One Becomes Eight

MIRACLES ARE NOT FOREIGN to the Jewish people. As many have observed throughout history, Jewish survival alone is a great miracle. We became a nation without a land while in Egypt, and have outlasted even the biggest and worst of our enemies.

However, not all miracles become the basis of a Jewish holiday, as is evident by how few holidays there are corresponding to miracles that have occurred. Which miracles lead to the creation of a holiday? The ones that embody a particular message that applies to all Jews everywhere, at all times.

The miracle that gave rise to the holiday of Chanukah was such a miracle. What was the miracle of Chanukah? The Talmud states:

What is Chanukah? ... On the 25th day of Kislev begins the eight days of Chanukah during which we donít eulogize or fast. When the Greeks entered the [Temple] courtyard, they ritually defiled all the oil in the courtyard. Once the kingdom of the house of Chashmonai was victorious [over the Greeks], they searched [for ritually-pure] oil, but could only find one jar of oil that bore the [unbroken] seal of the high priest, enough [to light the menorah] for only one day. A miracle occurred, as they were able to light from it for eight days, and the following year they established and made festive days for praise and acknowledgment. (Shabbos 21b)
The essential miracle that gave root to the holiday of Chanukah was not the incredible victory of Mattisyahu and his small army over the bigger, better equipped Syrian-Greek army. (This occurred in Israel in the year 165 BCE.) That miracle alone would not have resulted in the holiday of Chanukah.

The Talmud states that Chanukah resulted because of two miracles, but primarily because of one: the oil burned for seven extra days, while the laws of nature dictated that the oil should only have burned for one day.

But if that is the basis of the holiday of Chanukah, then what was so special? Did not Chanina ben Dosa not make vinegar burn like oil, for the entire Shabbat? (See the previous chapter.) If Chanina ben Dosa, and others like him can make vinegar burn, for an entire Shabbat yet, then what was so special about the miracle of Chanukah?

The answer is simple: the message the miracle proclaimed, and to appreciate that message, one has to first address a basic dilemma inherent in creation.

When one refers to an infinite line, it means the line has no beginning or end. But theoretically, the line has "sides", which means that other things can exist outside of the line. This, however, is not the case with God who is infinite.

The infinity of God is absolute. As mentioned earlier, nothing, absolutely nothing can exists "outside "of Him, which means everything exists within Him, so-to-speak. But if this is so, then paradox exists. How can existence, which is physical and finite, exist within its Creator, who is not physical and is infinite?

This dilemma is unsolvable in human terms, merely because the essence of God is beyond human understanding (it is impossible for a finite mind to grasp the essence of infinity). The best we can do is create theoretical models that come as close as is humanly possible to the abstract idea.

However, solving the dilemma is not the goal; living with the reality of it is.

It is a basic feature of human nature to take for granted everything, including the miracle of existence. And as history trudges on, and mankind becomes less sensitive to this miracle, nature becomes normal, and miracle becomes anomaly, the stuff of legends.

When you look at the physical world, said the Greeks, you see all the beauty there is to find in physical existence. What you see is what you get, and what you get is beautiful. This is why the Greeks were dead set against circumcision, which, they vehemently claimed, was mutilation of natural beauty.

Judaism, on the other hand, believes differently. The Jewish point of view is, what you see is what you start with, and is merely a covering for immeasurable potential that can scarcely be estimated while focusing only on the outside. It is our task to push aside our assumptions about what we see, and assume that what we can get is much more than what we may perceive.

This is because, inherent in creation is this paradox: the finite can exist within the infinite, and vice versa. After all, the soul has no physical parameters, and yet is "defined" by the physical body. And the potential one may realize throughout the course of oneís life certainly canít be measured.
(Though it is true that physical handicaps may limit the potential of a person in certain areas, oneís overall potential to achieve still goes beyond the handicap and the physicality of the individual.)

In simpler terms, the Greek point of view was, if you pour 8.5 ounces of liquid into a cup designed to hold only 8.0 ounces, then oneís cup will "floweth over". This is the beauty of nature, and its laws, and there is no way around this, unless the gods interfere and doing something strange.

The Jewish viewpoint is yes, the cup will overflow when 8.5 ounces is poured into an 8 ounce cup - if you believe it takes a miracle to avoid a spill. But if you believe that the finite world exists within the infinite and ultimate reality, then you also believe in "bottomless cups", even though the eyes perceive an eight ounce cup bottom.

Theoretically, had the Greeks ran back to light the menorah, and found the one remaining jar of oil, it would only have burned for one day. This would have been because, in their minds, there would only have been one dayís worth of oil in what they found.

But when the Chashmonaim conquered the Greeks, they "stumbled" onto an understanding of reality that had been worn away during the Greek exile, and the truth is, a long time before that. (The erosion of this viewpoint began back in the time prior to the destruction of the first Temple, which occurred in the year 423 BCE.) They discovered that the finite masks a certain infinity that exists within all of nature.

When they returned to the Temple and discovered only one jar of ritually-pure oil fit for lighting the menorah, they were not daunted. If the few can overcome the many, cannot the little light a lot? The answer to their question was a resounding yes, for in Godís world, one can become eight, or nine, or ten, or whatever is necessary.

This is why the miracle of Chanukah was so precious, precious enough to result in the creation of a holiday. And this is why it is the holiday of light, because light has the capacity to exist within darkness, (In fact, the Hebrew word for evening is erev, which means "mixture", referring to the mixture of light and darkness.) and to grow beyond it. Is this not what happens when one lights the olive oil, and the flame grows in size beyond that of the original, black olive from which it was extracted?

And is this not what happens with the soul of an individual, when they believe that they are more than what might appear on their physical surface - something achieved through prayer?

Without looking back, such people reach beyond their physical barriers, and achieve to a point where the "light" of their soul shines forth for all to see:

When Moses came down from the mountain, he did not realize that the skin of his face had become luminous ... (Exodus 34:29)
This, is the miracle of Chanukah.

(Incidentally, the menorah, which is the symbol of Chanukah also represented the Oral Law section of Torah (see the book, The Y Factor, by Mercava Productions, in the chapter "What is Meant by Torah?"). The Oral Law, according to tradition, is supposed to be contained with in the Written Law (a.k.a., The Five Books of Moses), even though the former continues to grow, while the latter is fixed. For a deeper understanding of this idea, and the many concepts that arise from this point, see the book Patterns in Time: Chanukah, by Rabbi Matis Weinberg and published by Feldheim Publishers.)

This, is the power of prayer.

Summary:

The world appears finite, but this is merely a mask for its quality of infinity. A miracle is the revealing of this infinite aspect of physical creation, which is always there, and always available for those who believe in this idea. This understanding is also the key to unlocking human potential, which is latent within people, and beyond human perception until it is realized. This is the essence of the message of the holiday of Chanukah.

© by Mercava Productions

Next Chapter
Table of Contents
Rabbi Winston's main page
Back to Neveh Homepage



The webspace for the Neveh Zion site has been generously donated by


send your comments to webmaster@neveh.org