November 29, 2013 admin

Two miracles

Everyone knows: Chanukkah is about the miracle of the oil which should have burnt for just one day but lasted instead for eight. Truly, though, there’s not just one miracle of Chanukkah; there are two.
To my mind the first miracle is the greater, even though there’s nothing supernatural about it at all. It’s simply that the Maccabees took the vial of pure olive oil which they discovered amidst the ruins of the Temple, poured it into the lamps of the Menorah, and lit it.
Why should they have bothered? The war was far from over; they hadn’t yet captured all of Jerusalem; the Temple was a tip, the Holy of Holies a desecrated ruin. Was this a scene to light up? ‘Yes, it is’, they decided. ‘No’, they determined, ‘We’re not going to wait until the situation is better, until everything’s perfect, until we’ve got plenty of oil and everything else which people think we need. We’re going to light that Menorah right now’.
Of course, the story of the oil is only a legend; it’s found just once, in the Talmud. But that’s its strength. The power of legends lies not in the literal, but in the deeper, truths they convey.
I’ve experienced that first miracle of the oil countless times. I see it every time I meet one of those people whose smile, or posture, or words, say, ‘Life is not a burden but a blessing; let’s make the most of this day!’ A moment before the world seemed like a week of November clouds; now it’s the red and gold of those glorious autumn leaves, and the spring in the new buds beneath them.
I’ve met people like that in hospital wards, both among those who are ill and those who care for them; I’ve met people like that in classrooms, among both teachers and pupils. I’ve met people like that who’re over a hundred (‘Bored by life? Bored? I don’t know the meaning of the word!’) and people like that who’re eleven. I’ve met people like that among the cleaners outside the synagogue at 7.00am when it’s dark and cold, ‘Good morning, rabbi; enjoy your prayers!’ I’ve met people like that among priests, rabbis and imams. I count them all my teachers.
‘When I struggle’, said a lady to me at a conference on Ageing and Spirituality, ‘I remember what a monk taught me: “Don’t let any day end without reminding yourself of five good things which happened”.’ I recalled the story of Jacob who, after fighting all night with an angel, refused to let his opponent go ‘unless you bless me’.
Sometimes we have to wrestle to turn life’s difficulties into blessings; then even a brief victory is a victory. Sometimes joy and gratitude just flow. E E Cummings was right:
I thank You God for this most amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
That’s where Thanksgiving and Chanukkah really meet.
The second miracle of Chanukkah is that oil sufficient for just one day ignited a flame which lasted for eight. (Eight represents transcendence: the week plus one; the natural cycle and more.)
I’ve witnessed this miracle too. One person inspires another; one person’s courage illumines another person’s hope; together they bring light to a whole new group of people whom, usually without even knowing it, they enable to find their own strength and creativity.
True light is never completely extinguished. Even when everything seems dark, a spark of light will have travelled underground, secretly and unseen. Somewhere it will shine out and yield its inspiration.
In igniting the Chanukkah lights, we connect our lives to this unquenchable flame of hope, faith and illumination.

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