Ra’anana Community Kollel
Hidden Miracles, Revealed Gratitude
Rabbi Binyomin Lipson
“Which miracle served as the impetus for the enactment of Chanukah?
... When the Greeks entered the sanctuary, they defiled all of the pure oil they discovered, and when the Chashmonaim finally overcame them, they searched and were only able to find one flask of oil with the seal of the Kohen Gadol. However, a miracle was performed for them, and they were able to light the menorah from that small container of oil for a complete eight days. Later, these days were fixed as a time of celebration to praise and give thanks to Hashem.” (Shabbat 21b, with Rashi)
The Gemara makes it quite clear that the enactment of Chanukah as a Rabbinic holiday was motivated solely by the miracle that was performed with the menorah and its oil. But weren’t there other miracles as well? What about the miraculous victory of the Maccabees over the well-trained militia of the Greek army? In fact, this amazing military victory is the primary event that we give thanks for in Al Ha’nisim, the special addition that we make to our prayers during Chanukah, “and You with Your great mercy stood up for them in the time of their oppression. . . . You delivered the mighty into the hand of the weak, the many into the hand of the few, the defiled into the hand of the pure, the wicked into the hand of the pious, and the brazen into the hand of those who labor in Your Torah . . .”
Why were these events never mentioned by the Gemara? Did these miraculous events not serve as even a partial impetus for the enactment of Chanukah? Even more difficult to understand is the fact that the miracle of the oil, the event which the Gemara tells us was the sole motivation for Chanukah’s inception as a Yom Tov, is hardly even mentioned in Al Ha’nisim, “ . . . and afterward Your children returned to Your sanctuary . . . purified Your Temple, lit candles in your holy courtyard, and fixed these days of Chanukah to thank and praise Your great name.” If the miracle of the menorah is so central to the essence of the holiday, why isn’t it mentioned more prominently?
When we examine the various miracles that Hashem has performed for us, we can discern two distinct types. From our oral tradition we know about many of the miracles that were performed for our forebearers. Avraham was saved from the flames of the furnace, and the Jordan River split its waters in order to enable Ya’akov to cross when he was fleeing from Eisav. However, these miracles and many like them were never written explicitly in the Torah. On the other hand, events like the crossing of the Red Sea, and the Manna, the miraculous food that the Jewish people ate in the desert, did become a permanent part of the written Torah. On what basis were some miracles written in the Torah and others left out?
From one of the very first miracles that we find in the Torah we can begin to see an answer. When Hashem first spoke to Moshe and commanded him to return to Egypt and redeem the Jewish people, he expressed his fear that the Jewish people would simply not believe him. For this reason, Hashem gave Moshe two miraculous signs with which he could reassure those whose trust in Hashem had been weakened by the pain of Egyptian servitude. We see from here that at the difficult times in life, when our faith can sometimes begin to falter, a miracle can serve to renew our trust in Hashem and to strengthen our resolve.
The Hebrew word for a miracle is neis. Interestingly, the word neis is also used to describe a banner or flag. Indeed, a miracle is also a type of flag, a Divine signpost announcing Hashem’s existence and His direct involvement in world affairs. It was precisely these miracles, that were performed to strengthen us at the times of our spiritual weakness, that were written in the Torah, in order that they should carry their message to all future generations. When we learn about the revealed miracles that Hashem has performed in the past, it awakens us to the thousands of hidden miracles which we are constantly experiencing in our daily lives. For this reason, miracles like those performed for our forebearers, which were not done to strengthen their faith, but rather to help them in their time of need, were not included in the Torah.
Perhaps now we can understand what the Gemara is telling us about Chanukah. In the time of the Maccabees there were two types of miracles which occurred. Granted, the military victory was miraculous, but only in a hidden way. Indeed we hear many people in our time claiming that on Chanukah we should celebrate the victory of the underdog, and the determination and physical might of a small, weak group of rebels who defeated the world superpower against all odds to the complete exclusion of any Divine intervention. However, the miracle of the oil was plain for all to see, and it was in this miraculous occurrence that the Sages saw a motivation for instituting a holiday of thanks and praise. Without the miracle of the oil, many would have certainly claimed that the military victory was nothing supernatural. However, the revealed miracle of the menorah awakened us to the truth of those hidden wonders. The gratitude that we express on Chanukah is primarily directed at the military victory because only it elucidates the deeper message of the holiday, our newfound recognition of the hidden kindnesses that Hashem has done for us and continues to do, and the gratitude that we thereby feel it our duty to express.
Surely each and every one of us can think of times in our lives when we have truly felt Hashem’s presence. The neis of the menorah can help, not only to remind us of the miraculous kindnesses that we have received in the past, but also to remind us realize that these events are intended to serve as windows through which we should view the rest of our life’s events and internalize that even though it’s sometimes not apparent, Hashem in Heaven is always here with us.
adapted from Siftei Chiam, Vol. 2, pp. 4-6