Ra’anana Community Kollel
Who Needs A Miracle?
Rabbi Aharon Liberman
Chanukah is the Festival of Lights. In every Jewish home the menorah is kindled near the window to tell the world about the great miracle of a small flask of oil which sufficed to light the menorah in the Beit Hamikdash for eight days. Even the poorest Jew is required to sell the shirt off of his back, if necessary, in order to publicize this miracle through the menorah lighting ceremony.
What, indeed, is a miracle? A miracle occurs when Hashem chooses to alter the course of nature. While it is generally not Hashem’s policy to intervene in the laws of nature which were already established, it is often G-d’s will to interfere in order to save the Jewish people. Some of the most famous of these instances include the ten plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, and the fall of the manna.
The question begs, therefore, why was the miracle of Chanukah necessary? The fact that a tiny amount of oil was able to burn for so long is undoubtedly a miracle, but did the situation warrant Hashem to deviate from the stand not to interfere with nature? Granted, there is a mitzvah to kindle the menorah in the Bet Hamikdash, but would the world come to a sudden halt had the mitzvah been forgone due to lack of ability to fulfill it? Other miracles were integral to our salvation. Without the ten plagues, Hashem’s Omnipotence would not have been portrayed to Pharoh, and the Exodus could not have occurred. Had the Red Sea not split, the pursuing Egyptian army would have captured us and returned us to Egypt to suffer eternal bondage. If the manna had not fallen, then we would have perished from starvation in the desert. Would there really have been a catastrophe had the menorah in the Beit Hamikdash not been lit?
In order to answer this question, we must first understand the true significance of the Greco-Hashmonai conflict. The Ancient Greeks were the world power. More than that, they made several invaluable contributions to civilization. They built architectural structures that were wonders in ancient society. They nurtured the foremost artists, writers, philosophers, mathematicians, doctors, warriors, astronomers and scientists. Even the Torah respects the value of the Greeks, as it is written “Hashem will give beauty to Yafet,” who is the ultimate ancestor of the Greek Empire. Indeed, the Talmud teaches that Greek is the only language into which the books of Nach may be translated because it is a beautiful language.
Conversely, however, the Torah also criticizes the Greeks, accusing them of darkening the eyes of Israel thorough their edicts in that they demanded that the Jews carve into the horns of their oxen “I have no share in the G-d of Israel.” (That was probably the equivalent of a bumper sticker). This was the point of contention between the Greeks and the Hashmonaim. The Greeks believed in the awesome power of human intellect and potential, and it showed in their remarkable accomplishments and contributions. The Torah itself praises them for this. They could not, however, reckon the Divine intellect. Because they felt their identity threatened by it, they imposed terrible decrees on us. They did not wish to annihilate us like Haman; they merely wanted us to abandon the Divine wisdom for the Greek wisdom. The disadvantage of human wisdom is that it is physical and finite; it cannot extend beyond its scope. Divine wisdom, however is spiritual and infinite; it knows no boundaries.
In light of this, we can understand the miracle of the oil. If all the Greek scientists and mathematicians had come to the Beit Hamikdash, they could have measured the amount of oil, the size and thickness of the wick, the direction and speed of the wind, and the shape of the oil holders. They could have used their human intellect to develop a formula to determine how long the oil can burn, and they would have concluded that it would last for one day. Hashem performed a miracle to show the world that this approach is accurate only if one confines himself or herself to human capabilities. Hashem’s capabilities, however, can permit one to break through physical boundaries and reach for the sky.
This is a timeless lesson which is relevant to us as well. Sometimes we feel confident and invincible. Logically, everything seems to look like we will be successful. If Hashem does not give us blessing, however, we are doomed to failure, no matter how positive everything appears to be. Other times we feel that we have no chance of success; our evaluation of the circumstances is negative. If, however, Hashem is with us, we can shatter our physical confines and our potential will be endless.