The miracle that we celebrate on the first night of Hanukkah is unlike that of any of the other seven nights. In fact, it's hard to determine what exactly the miracle was at all.
A quick glance at the familiar story will remind us why: After the Maccabees took back the Temple from the hands of Antiochus and the Greeks, they discovered only one container of pure olive oil, just enough to re-light the ner tamid, the eternal lamp, for a single day. Miraculously, that oil kept on burning for eight days and nights, long enough to prepare more oil and keep the flame alive. That is why we, beginning this evening, will light a candle for each of the next eight nights.
While it is certainly a miracle worth commemorating, that the little vessel of oil burned for two days, or four, or especially eight-- there doesn't seem to be anything at all miraculous about the first night. When we light the menorah tonight are we really commemorating the fact that one day's worth of oil burned for-- one day?
The truth is that the miracle of the first night of Hanukkah is not about the oil at all-- it's about the courage of the brave soul who stepped up to light the flame.
After bearing witness to so much darkness-- years of warfare and loss of life-- it was an act of love and faith to rekindle the light and to begin to rebuild. We have all faced times when the world seemed dark and we just wanted to retreat to our beds, pull up the covers, and accept defeat. We have seen families, communities, even entire countries shattered by violence and by disaster (click here to help support victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines) who then draw upon seemingly miraculous wells of courage and strength to begin healing. It is an act of love and faith to get up each morning and to face whatever challenges life offers us with renewed hope. That's what we are celebrating tonight-- not the miracles that God did for us, but the miracles that God daily helps us to do for ourselves.
This Hanukkah, let's pause in the glow of our candles to give gratitude to those whose love inspires us to face our days with courage and for nissim sh'bechol yom, the everyday miracles that surround us all.
Hag Urim Sameach!