Each day of Hanukkah, our editor Sara Himeles, who recently graduated from rabbinical school, is sharing a teaching and reflection prompt focusing on different themes of the Hanukkah story. Journal your response or simply reflect on each prompt. We hope these teachings and prompts make your Hanukkah brighter and more meaningful. Missed a Hanukkah prompt? Read the prompts for Day 1 and Day 2.
On Hanukkah we commemorate miracles — the miraculous victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greek superpower, and the oil that burned for eight days even though it was enough for just one (you can read all about it in our Hanukkah guide).
We also light Hanukkah candles, symbolizing the power of light to overcome darkness. But did you know that the Festival of Lights is a time of thanksgiving as well?
I’m not simply talking about the fact that Hanukkah and Thanksgiving in the U.S. almost overlapped this year. I mean that thanksgiving and praise are essential themes of this holiday. “The sages of that generation decreed that these eight days…should be days of…praise,” the legendary scholar Rambam (Maimonides) explains.
“And they established these eight days of Hanukkah to give thanks and praise to Your great name,” states the Al Hanisim (“For the Miracles”) prayer that we recite in the daily Amidah prayer and grace after meals during Hanukkah.
The main point is that Hanukkah is not merely about the miracles that occurred — both in the days of the Maccabees and in our own days. Just as importantly, the Festival of Lights is about expressing thanks for those miracles.
In the Al Hanisim prayer, we thank God for miraculously delivering “the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few.” The Maccabees were outnumbered and outmaneuvered, the narrative of this prayer goes — they barely stood a chance against their powerful rulers — and God performed miracles and delivered them.
עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן וְעַל הַגְּבוּרוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת וְעַל הַנִּפְלָאוֹת וְעַל הַנֶּחָמוֹת שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה
“We thank You for the miracles and for the wonders and for the mighty deeds and for the salvations and for the victories that you wrought for our ancestors in their days and in this day.”
The Hanukkah story invites us to reflect on miracles in our own lives. We tend to think of miracles as being of epic proportions, but after Covid-19, many things we used to take for granted can feel almost miraculous. As you light the candles on the third night of Hanukkah, reflect on miracles in your own life and what you are truly grateful for. To whom do you owe thanks for those miracles?