“Not by might” this Hanukkah

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 prompt for Day 1.

On Hanukkah we remember miracles that occurred “bayamim hahem bazman hazeh” (in those days and at this time). This  phrase appears in the second blessing we recite when lighting Hanukkah candles and in the “Al Hanissim” (“For the miracles”) prayer that is inserted in the daily Amidah and the prayer after meals during Hanukkah.

This phrase begs the question: Do the Hanukkah miracles refer to events that occurred in the Hanukkah story in the second century B.C.E., or is the story really about modern-day miracles? How could it be both?

On one level, there is the military and political victory of the Maccabees. The ragtag army of Jewish revolutionaries defeated the Selucid superpower, rededicated the Temple and (about 25 years later) reestablished Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. 

They found a quantity of ritually pure oil in the Temple that was sufficient to last for only one day but it miraculously kept burning for eight. These miracles were confined to a particular time and place. They were “in those days,” bayamim hahem.

But the Hanukkah story is not limited to one-time miracles. There is also an eternal, ongoing miracle that lasts for all generations. This is symbolized by the light of the oil that miraculously burned for eight days. It is a light that continues burning in each one of us.

The prophet Zechariah expressed the basic idea of this eternal miracle, upon seeing a vision of a menorah. In his vision, Zechariah hears God say the following: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). The greatness of the Maccabees and of the Jewish people comes not merely from physical strength, but from the spirit. As we light the menorah, we too are reminded of God’s spirit, residing in each one of us.

Prompt:

Mishlei (Proverbs) 20:27 states,

נֵ֣ר יְ֭הֹוָה נִשְׁמַ֣ת אָדָ֑ם חֹ֝פֵ֗שׂ כל־חַדְרֵי־בָֽטֶן׃

“The soul of a human being is a candle of the Lord, revealing all innermost parts.” Just like the flames of the Hanukkah candles, we too carry an inner flame in our hearts. Think of an area in your life where you need strength, hope or renewal. What does resilience, persistence or faith in this situation look like?