There is a Hebrew proverb, עין סומכים על הנס, Eyn Somchim al HaNes, which literally says don’t rely on a miracle. But, approaching Chanukah where we celebrate at least two miracles, and in at least two ways (we both recite הלל (Hallel), a set of thanks-giving Psalms we say on Chaggim (holy days), Rosh Chodesh (new moon) and when we’ve experience miracles (including all eight days of Chanukah), and also add על הניסים, Al HaNissim (For the Miracles) to our thrice daily prayers as well as to the ברכת המזון, Birkat HaMazon, the grace after meals), it seems that we’re celebrating just that–our reliance on miracles!
Yes, it is a little contradictory to place as much emphasis on miracles as we do, celebrating Yetziat Mitzraim (Exodus from Egypt) and Kri’at Yam Suf (parting of the Red Sea) on Pesach, the entire Purim miracle and at least two miracles (the military victory and the long-lasting oil, on Chanukah), when we’re instructed to de-emphasize miracles altogether.
One simple explanation is that we should avoid behavior which leaves us in the position of requiring a miracle to save ourselves. Had we not whole-heartedly joined in the feast of Achashueras, thus fully assimilating in Persian culture, Haman would not have been necessary to remind us that we are Jews, עָם לְבָדָד יִשְׁכֹּן (Am L’Vadad Yishkon (Bamidbar 23:9)), a nation that dwells apart. Had we not allowed ourselves to sink to the 49th level of moral pollution in Egypt, imitating our hosts who became our masters, it would not have required a miracle to extricate us from there. And had we not allowed an idolatrous statue of Zeus to be installed in the Bet HaMikdash, the Holy Temple, the oil would never have become contaminated and the war against the Greco-Syrians would have been unnecessary.
In each case, due to our own actions and inactions, our desire to fit in with the dominant power of the day and our perverse need to forget who we really are, we brought disaster on our heads, leading ourselves to the brink of utter destruction. Looking forward, we need to remind ourselves who we are and avoid decisions and actions which are guaranteed to place us on the verge of extinction.
It’s interesting that the word for miracle, נס, Nes, also means a sign. The obvious connection is that when we lose sight of God, lose sight of ourselves, we are in big trouble. When we could have prevented a disaster or a potential disaster but, rather, created a situation beyond our own abilities to repair, what we really need, much more than the miraculous rescue, is the sign, the reminder that God exists and what our relation to Him really is.
One lesson from Purim is that, ultimately, there is no difference between ברוך מרדכי, Baruch Mordechai, Bless Mordechai and ארור המן, Arur Haman, Curse Haman. Whether we’re drawn to God and our obligation-driven relationship with Him through positive incentives or, painfully, through the frequent travails our people have suffered, we still end up with our renewed and reinvigorated relationship. Or, as the cliché many of us were brought up with, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Chag Urim Sameach!