Friday, November 22, 2013

A Message from the Rosh HaYeshiva

I hope you all are well and are preparing for the upcoming Chanukkah and Thanksgiving period.  A brief thought regarding their intersection at this one and only time in history. The al ha'nissim prayer is situated in the blessing of modim, framing the commemoration and publicizing of the miracle in the context of giving thanks to God. In fact, al ha'nissim ends with the sentence: vi'kavu shmonat yimei Chanukkah elu li'hodot u'li'hallel li'shimkha ha'gadol, and they established these eight days of Chanukkah to thank and praise Your great name - the very holiday of Chanukkah was instituted to give thanks. 

Now, it is easy to give thanks when we can see God's miraculous intervention in our lives, such as occurred with the miracle of oil.  What is more challenging is when God is our silent partner.  In such cases it is easier, and more enticing, to attribute our success to our own abilities and efforts, and to ignore or forget God's role.  Ramban writes that the reason so many mitzvot were given to remind us of the Exodus was to help us make the transition from seeing God in the miraculous to seeing God in the day-to-day.  By remembering the miracles of the Exodus, we would be cognizant on an ongoing basis of God's involvement in the world and God's presence in our lives.

This message can be heard in the two narratives of Chanukkah.The Bavli relates the famous story of the miracle of the oil which lasted for eight days.  Interestingly, this miracle is absent from the al ha'nissim, which instead focuses on the miracle of the war and the driving of the Seleucid-Greeks from the Temple:  masarta giborim bi'yad chalashim - You delivered over the mighty into the hands of the weak.  Both stories are critical.  By focusing only on the former, we will come to see God only in those miraculous moments of our lives.  But by focusing only on the latter, we can easily write God out of the picture and attribute it all to our own prowess.  [Consider the modern Zionist Chanukkah song: mi yi'mallel gvurot Yisrael... Macabi moshiya u'fodeh - "Who will relate the valorous deeds of Israel... A Maccabee arises and redeems."  God is noticeably absent.]  By combining the two narratives we learn to be aware of God's saving hand not only in the miraculous, but in the natural course of events as well, and to appreciate that if we look hard enough we will find not only God, but miracles as well, that are with us on a daily basis.

It is this message of al ha'nissim, the mandate to see and thank God for the extraordinary miracles and for the daily miracles, that circles back to the larger message of the modim prayer:  "We give thanks before You... we will thank you and speak your praises for our lives which are entrusted into Your hands... and for your miracles which are with us every day, and for your wonders and kindnesses of every moment..." Let this Chanukkah help us see and experience God in our lives and appreciate those miracles which are with us each and every day.

And in the category of thanking God - a Mazal Tov and thanks to God - on the birth of a baby boy to Donna and Rabbi Menashe East (YCT  2005) and on the bris this last Tuesday.  Shetizku li'gadlo li'Torah li'chuppah u'li'ma'asim tovim.

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