If you ask folks to define Chanukah in a single word the choice invariably offered by young and old, Jew or Gentile is...Miracles. Of course the tale of the Maccabees struggle against the powerful Greek-Syrian Empire to practice Judaism represents great heroism. Returning to the Holy Temple to find but one purified cruise of oil, which should have lasted but a single night but continued to shine for eight days is certainly miraculous.
Yet to focus on "miracles" is to lose sight of the true meaning of this festival. For miracles attend to us daily both large and small if we choose to view glimpses of the sacred as the handiwork of God. A loved one who's biopsy reveals no malignancy, that's a miracle. A mourner who slowly resumes interest in life's little pleasures after a grievous loss may be understood as a small miracle too. Standing at a curb ready to cross the street and then stepping back, only to watch in amazement as a truck speeds inches away from you, or rekindling a relationship gone sour for a long period of time all proclaim God's presence.
Chanukah includes miracles, but I venture to guess that both you and I can recall incredible and inspiring tales that we ourselves have personally experienced.
The word that best fits Chanukah is Light, because that is its' essence. We respond to the darkness of Judaism's potential annihilation with light. We battle bigotry and ignorance, inhumanity and selfishness all with lighting a candle. And we do so during the longest nights of the year.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the despair that surrounds us. Yet we know as Jews, that we can never lose hope as long as we can kindle light. If we take a darkened room, just striking a match changes the environment. So too for the world outside our door. Education, friendship, Torah, mitzvot, are all lights that warm and brighten those we come in contact with.
Rabbi Hugo Gryn, a survivor of Auschwitz told the tale of a tiny ration of margarine that was hidden in the camp. Margarine was life and yet it was saved for the special night of Chanukah as a makeshift candle. When a fellow Jew asked how one could sacrifice precious food for a religious ceremony, the rabbi responded that a person can survive three weeks without food and three days without water, but one can not live three minutes without hope. That is why he offered his meager ration to kindle a light, for Chanukah light is hope.
So this Chanukah let us bless the power of light to brighten our world. It is a very powerful force that can be ignited by a simple act. Where there is darkness and fear strike a match and light a light, and perform a kind act for another. For hope is conveyed when we dispel darkness and then miracles follow the path of our flames.
Hag HaUrim Sameach A Happy Festival of Lights to all our loved ones.
Rabbi Raphael Adler