So here we are on the last night of Hanukkah. We will once again light the Hanukkaim, the Hanukkah menorah, this time resplendent with all nine lights. The blessings will remain the same. The moment will feel more full, abundant with light.
But let’s look at the blessings more closely.
The first blessing is fairly straightforward, praising God who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the Hanukkah lights.
But did God really command us? If we open up the Torah or, in fact, the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, we will not find one mention of Hanukkah. This formula (that God commanded us) is normally reserved for biblical commandments, for something that is found in the Torah. Hanukkah is later!
How do we reconcile this?
We understand that the rabbis, Hazal, believed that they were continuing the process of revelation that started at Sinai, continuing all the way to them. So, when they declared that Hanukkah should be observed and the candles lit, it was as if God had commanded us.
This is a radical notion, one that resonates with us as modern Jews. In essence, it states that the Torah is not simply in God’s hands or that the commandments are external from a place and time beyond us. It means that we are part of the process declaring what is a mitzvah and we have power, similar to God’s!
And what about the second blessing: praising God who performed miracles for our ancestors long ago at this particular season. That’s the normal formulation of this blessing, but the Conservative movement in 1985 in its Siddur Sim Shalom went with a different version of this blessing based on ancient traditions as well as a modern philosophical outlook. They added one letter: “vav,” which, in this grammatical context, is pronounced: “u.” So the phrase is: u-v’zman ha-zeh, instead of meaning: God wrought miracles for our ancestors at this particular season of the year, it now means that God created miracles way back then and today, too!
This is another radical notion. God did not only create miracles long ago. When we recite this blessing and look into the Hanukkah flames, we are reminded that there are miracles all around us, that God’s presence is not something that happens only in ancient texts and in ancient times. God’s presence fills the universe; in fact, God’s love is all around us.
With that reminder, we open our eyes and see the miracles that exist in nature – the warmth and renewal of a sunrise, the calming of the sunset, the magic of the moon and the stars at night, the wonders of nature, – the miracles that happen in our own lives, the miracle of meeting someone and falling in love and forming a sanctified partnership, the miracle of witnessing the birth of a child and raising and teaching children, the miracle of being in community, of having sustaining relationships – the miracle of the Jewish people’s survival over 4,000 years of travails and challenges, the miracle that this eternal people remain, sharing our vision of a redeemed universe with all humanity.
There are miracles all around us.
Our rabbis teach us that many walked past the little, scraggly burning bush in the wilderness, but that it was only Moses that noticed something unusual about this plant and stopped to look at it, and he became aware of God’s presence. May the lights of Hanukkah on the final day of this holiday remind us that there are miracles all around us each and every day. We need only open our eyes and become aware.
Praised are You, Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who created miracles for our ancestors long ago, and at this very time.
Barukh Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh Ha-Olam She’asah Nissim Lavoteuni Bayamim Hahem U’Vzman Ha-Zeh!