By Rabbi Elchonon Friedman
This coming week we will be celebrating the holiday of Chanukah, the holiday of lights. We will celebrate many miracles: the victory of the few over the many, the victory of the righteous over the wicked and the victory of the weak over the mighty.
These miracles provide great life lessons in how to have faith in oneself and face the greatest obstacles and overcome them. Yet all these miracles really occurred in the days before Chanukah, for when we light the menorah in our homes we will be celebrating a miracle that occurred after the wars were won and the battles had ceased. So yes, we mention these miracles in our prayers, but the eight nights and days of Chanukah, with the lighting of the menorah and the associated blessings, actually celebrate the miracle of the oil.
It was after the Greeks were defeated, and the Jewish people returned to restore the Holy Temple and its service — including the lighting of the holy menorah — that the miracle of the oil happened. When the Jewish people arrived, the temple lay in ruins, and no untampered oil was to be found. They searched and miraculously found one jug of olive oil still intact and sealed with the seal of the High Priest. This jug only had enough oil to last one day, but the Jewish people lit the menorah and the oil burned for eight days. In celebration of this miracle, we light a menorah for the eight nights of Chanukah.
The lessons of this miracle are plenty. One lesson is that a pure heart and soul can always burn miraculously beyond one’s wildest dreams. If we just tap into the very pure unadulterated good that is our very essence, warmth, light and miracles will be natural. No darkness can stand in the way of light, and since our hearts and souls are G-dly light, we just need fuel to burn. A mitzvah or a good deed is the fuel of our soul, and with our G-dly essence we can transform our inner darkness as well as the dark outside that threatens our Judaism, traditions and morals.
There is one more miracle that we should not overlook: The Jewish people at the time of Chanukah, weary from war, tired from battle, overcome with grief at the ruins of the Beit HaMikdash, and seeing that the Greeks deliberately defiled all that was holy, were still certain that a pure flask of oil remained. They saw that every jug was broken, the menorah itself destroyed, pigs were brought onto the altar, and yet they knew there was a pure flask of oil with the seal of the High Priest still intact somewhere.
These are the true miracles of Chanukah: First, that each one of us, man, woman and child, always has a pure heart and soul at his or her very essence. Sometimes it may be lost, but it is always there.
Second, that we never lose hope or stop searching for this very essential good. As in the days of the Maccabees, we continue our search, and with G-d’s help we will find that perfect good within.
Third, it is the very fact that we believe in this essential good that allows the weak to fight the mighty and the righteous the wicked. We fight for this good even when not fully recognized or matured.
Fourth, just the belief that one’s essential good exists will cause the miracle that the weak will overcome the mighty. Just the belief in one’s inner good will propel one to a state where they will overcome the greatest obstacles and adversaries.
Fifth, the light of one’s inner goodness and G-dliness will start shining a little — first one flame on a dark night, and then becoming two lights, and three and four, and the light will spread through the home, and then to the neighborhood and streets.
Our inner lights are eternal miracles, eternal good that has no boundaries and limits, and once one discovers it and fans its flames, darkness will recede, ice will melt and people will change for the better.
Discover your inner self, take a look at that beautiful menorah flame shining through your window, and then look in the mirror and see that flame burning within. Let it shine in your actions with another mitzvah: a favor for another person, lighting a Shabbat candle or putting a mezuzah on your door. Celebrate who you are and your inner light will shine ever brighter.
And never lose faith in the fact that G-d and goodness is always within, always perfect, created and sealed by G-d Himself. Look and you will find, taste and you will enjoy, open your eyes and you will see, there is always a miracle within.
Have a good Shabbat and a happy Chanukah.
Rabbi Elchonon Friedman is the spiritual leader of Bnai Emunoh Chabad in Pittsburgh. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.