The Personal Miracle
One of the things that I love about Judaism is the notion of a personal God. Amidst all the billions of people and creatures on planet Earth, God recognizes, listens to, and cares about me.
We learn this concept from many places in the Torah. God speaks to individuals from Abraham and Sarah to minor figures like Hagar and the parents of Samson. When the Ten Commandments are presented to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai, the first statement is, “I am the Lord, your (singular) God who took you out of Egypt.” When Moses tells us to form a bond of love with God, “V’ahata et Adonai Elohecha-You should love the Lord, your God,” “You” in Hebrew is written in the singular form.
Traditional Judaism embraced this belief. That’s why everyone’s prayers, behavior, and observance count and not just the community at large.
There are those, of course, who disagree. Reconstructionist Judaism was created on the premise of Deism. Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, its founder, believed that God is not personal and not a conscious being, nor can God in any way relate to or communicate with humanity. Kaplan’s theology defines God as the sum of all natural processes that allow people to become self-fulfilled.
The exact opposite of this belief is found in Jewish Mysticism, known as the Kabbalah. It asserts that not only does God care about us personally, but also that within each of our own individual souls is a spark of the Divine. That in some vicarious way, God is “living” in the physical world through us. Therefore, when we pray, meditate or do an act of kindness, we unite the God within us to the Godliness around us. “The Secret Life of God: Discovering the Divine Within You” by Rabbi David Aaron is wholly devoted to this topic.
On Chanukah we experienced miracles on a national scale. As I explained to my Gimmel class, “Imagine we formed a football team with me as our quarterback, and we beat the NY Giants. That would be astonishing.” Likewise, a bunch of religious and nationalistic zealots besting trained Syrian armies was miraculous as well. Many times the Syrians outnumbered the Jewish rebels four to one. The Menorah burning for eight days on one day of fuel was not the miracle of Chanukah. That was just a wink, a sign of approval from God appreciating our sacrifice and efforts.
The derivative of the belief in a personal God is the belief in the personal miracle. Over Shabbat I shared two such stories. One was about a son and mother separated during the Holocaust who were miraculously reunited in New York City. The young survivor, safeguarding his last family heirloom, a menorah, was adopted by an American Jewish soldier and taken to NYC. As that menorah burned in the window thousands of miles from its origin, there was a knock on the door from a middle-aged woman. She claimed to have such a menorah in her family and asked to see it up close; in this manner son and mother were reunited.
Less dramatic but equally poignant, on Friday night I recounted the story of a cantor and family from Germany escaping on the Chanukah following Kristallnacht. Crossing into Holland by train on the eighth night of Chanukah, yearning for redemption and assurance from God, the cantor desired to kindle the Chanukah lights. Nazi inspectors though circulated throughout the train making such an act foolish. Suddenly at the Germany-Holland border there was a blackout with all the lights on the train and platform going out. As the Cantor lit his candles calling out to God in a whisper, the Nazi officials thanked him for being prepared with travel candles.
Miracles, signs from God, don’t have to be fiery hail or the splitting of a sea. The inexplicable success of the underdog, the synchronicity of two lost souls reuniting under one windowsill, a convenient blackout or even a well-timed call to merge can be seen as a sign of care and love from Above.
The rabbis perceived Chanukah as a time for praise and thanks (the latkes and donuts came later). We should certainly give thanks for the preservation of our faith and ethnicity. Yet it’s also a time to give thanks for the miraculous in our lives. We Jews have a history of national miracles, but I’m sure if you search, you’ll find personal miraculous moments as well.