Despite its absence from the Torah, the Maccabee’s story is an integral part of Jewish holiday celebrations, namely that of Hanukkah. We all know the story of how this small group stood up for Judaism and defeated those destroying Jerusalem. The city was decimated, though, and there was barely enough oil to light the sacred lamp even for one night. But then the light burned anyway. And it kept burning, until eight nights passed. That, our childhood Hebrew school teachers told us, is why we celebrate Hanukkah for so many days.
It’s a fun story, but an often contested one. In fact, many biblical stories are contested, and it doesn’t help that no one reads the Torah in exactly the same way. On a very basic level, some people like to think of the stories literally, others think they may be literally but missing pieces, and some think they are just that—stories. Whatever your interpretative preference, though, there is one thing that we can all agree on: the stories serve a purpose. They inform us, educate us, and teach us lessons.
So why, I wonder, do we ignore what is perhaps one of the most important lessons of all, that those who are righteous have G-d on their side? Too often I hear fellow Jews say something along the lines of, “That couldn’t possibly happen. Therefore, the story isn’t accurate.” Take Passover for example. Because we can’t split a body of water in two, people say that the Red Sea must not have been split for Moses, either. The same doubting logic applies to Hanukkah. There is no way that a small amount of oil could ever last for eight days, and therefore the story can’t be true. But isn’t the point of the story that the impossible became possible? Isn’t that the definition of a miracle? We celebrate because G-d helped us through an incredibly difficult situation. We celebrate because the impossible was achieved.
As we grow older, it is hard to hold onto that childlike belief that miracles can happen. We see hardship. We feel pain. We lose people we love. Life is full of ups and downs that jade us, harden us, and cause us to invent words like cynic, skeptic, and pessimist.
This Hanukkah, try to take down at least one of the walls that surround you. Allow yourself to eat that latke without worrying about the calories. Allow yourself to play Dreidel. And allow yourself to smile at the thought that a tiny bit of oil could have burnt for eight days.