What can I possibly have to say about Chanukah that hasn’t already been said? That I haven’t already said or written? As the years continue, it can become increasingly difficult to keep talking and teaching, and in some ways even the rather simple observance, lighting the candles for eight day, becomes a challenge to keep fresh, relevant and worth opening my mouth (or word-processor). It’s all so familiar, a short-lived military victory so far in the past it’s tempting to experience it as merely mythic, an unlikely miracle we commemorate but don’t even begin to attempt to repeat–after all, we do add oil (or a candle) and an ever-increasing amounts, each of the eight days! And it coming in the middle of world-wide celebrations for other holidays, we don’t even stand out as the sole people finding something to celebrate right now–everyone feels the relief when the short dark days begin to lengthen, even if just a barely perceptible amount.
For one thing, it’s challenging to each of us, I think, to spare much thought for God if everything is more-or-less proceeding “as normal”. Even a great joy will so often fail to occupy us with our enjoyment of it, that any higher thoughts, gratitude to The Creator, for example, often, if at all, barely make an appearance.
Curiously, though, not that much needs to go wrong for us to immediately cry out for Divine Assistance. Here’s a real, seemingly trivial experience I had last night. It was pouring rain in Jerusalem. I walked and bussed to a pizza restaurant I especially enjoy and which is two stops past a five minute walk (or a fifteen minute walk). By the time I got home, all my clothes, outer and inner, were completely soaked. As I was taking off my shirt to hang it over a chair to dry overnight, a couple things I usually keep in my pocket fell on the floor. The one object which almost falls, often for no apparent cause, my plastic bus-pass card, didn’t hit the floor. I decided to take it out anyway and put it on the table with everything else. It wasn’t there!
I immediately checked other pockets I might have returned it to since when I last used it in the bus earlier that evening, my coat was zipped to my neck, making that pocket slightly inconvenient. Like most people, in cases like that I usually just slide it into my pants pocket or an outer pocket in my coat…..which were the first places I checked. As you’d guess from that fact that I’m bothering to relate this story, it was in neither. I went back to the shirt pocket to check again and, obviously, it hadn’t mysteriously returned. It wasn’t in my wallet, nor on the floor near my front door, or anywhere else I had sat or walked past since returning home.
Hoping it might have fallen out of my pocket when (if–I’m actually pretty sure I at most loosened the zipper down to mid-body rather than taking off the coat) at the pizza restaurant, wouldn’t-you-just-know closed by now, I resolved to call them first thing in the morning and, if they had it, take a fast walk to retrieve it.
I should also mention, this was a Thursday night, meaning that the following morning, mid-Chanukah, would be one of the shortest afternoons in the year, with every store and office closing early if they open at all. The other remedy, the only one if the pizza restaurant didn’t have my card in the morning, was to buy a replacement–not very expensive, but an inconvenient trip on a short Friday. You see, the thing of it is that, theoretically at least, bus drivers no longer accept cash–you need one of these cards to use all public transportation in Jerusalem! And, it was going to be a very short Friday in terms of Shabbat shopping and then trying to add on any errands.
People who know me well at all know that I always have trouble sleeping, and when I know I have to get up sufficiently early to accomplish something on a deadline, I often stay up all night worrying about over-sleeping and missing it, so I didn’t really sleep at all that night. Friday morning saw me a wreck, but ready, or at least reconciled, to the extra errand(s). Eating and showering, it was time to dress. When it came time to take my shirt off the chair-back where it spent the night drying, my long-lost card fell to the floor! The first words out of my mouth were “Baruch Hashem!”, Praise/Thank/Acknowledge God!
Obviously, had that card behaved normally, I would have taken it from my pocket when needed, without acknowledging anything special or miraculous about it at all. Of course, I’d be ignoring the fact that I was living in Jerusalem, after close to 30 years of longing to return here. No, I wouldn’t have bothered mentioning, or probably even thinking about The Creator as I went about my everyday business. I’d take my health and vigor for granted, wouldn’t think a thing of the financial resources at my disposal (hadn’t I earned them? emphasis on “I”!). That there is a modern, thriving city of Jerusalem, on the site of our ancient capitol, filled with more Jews living much better and more comfortable and fulfilling lives, also considering that there are more Jews learning Torah here than anytime in history, as I was merely boarding a bus or walking into a store or enjoying a slice of pizza, would have passed without a thought.
This is related to Chanukah extending over seven full days. Seven days is a week, a week out, a time out, reality resumes with the new week. But Chanukah continues even after the week is over. In one sense, it transforms sacred time into “plain old regular” time because we’ve become used to, and at least slightly immune to the holiness of these days. With no restrictions on work or fire or electricity or driving, they just seem like normal days with a candle-lighting ceremony at the end (actually the beginning of each new day….).
But, while seven signifies the normal work-week, eight transcends that reality and thrusts us directly into holy time. Chanukah performs the “now you see it now you don’t” hocus pocus magic of allowing us to experience each of these days as both special, holy, and normal, mundane.
Because that is, indeed, the human condition, one foot always in the holy, the other foot destined to operate in this physical world of striving, Asiya.
So, the opportunity to experience the direct appearance of The Creator as my bus card appears and disappears, my anxiety suddenly relieved which prompts, almost automatically, the declaration of Baruch Hashem, seems to underline the miracle of Chanukah, not just that oil lasted longer or that we were able to defeat a numerically and technologically superior enemy, but that we’re jolted to realize that each and every day is filled with the presence, the Hashgacha Pratit of our Creator.
Chag Urim Sameach!