This year, the night after we gather for our Thanksgiving feasts, we willkindle the first lights of Hanukkah. Celebrating these two holidays insuccession -- one profoundly American and pluralist in spirit, and one whichmarks the particular pride and unique spiritual and historical legacy weshare as Jews -- can be a time for us to reflect on miracles both Americanand Jewish. But what exactly do we mean by miracles?
In the 13th century, the scholar and mystic Ramban wrote on the subject ofmiracles in his commentary to the book of Exodus:
Our original ancestors saw miracles on a deeper level. They saw God as boththe One who ordered the heavens in the time of creation and does hiddenmiracles each day. This was not taken for granted by them.
In other words, miracles are happening all the time, we just don't perceivethem. Ramban went on to write:
Our ancestors saw miracles in all things--they were rescued from hunger,death, war, and the sword, and were given wealth and respect--a goodlife...they understood that all things depend on hidden miracles.
With Ramban's understanding of miracles in mind, we might ask: What aretoday's miracles?
During the past year, continued terror and military conflict have weighedheavily on our hearts. And yet, even in this time of much despair, therehave been miracles. Stories of tragedy and unimaginable loss are paired withmiraculous stories of courage and heroism. David Bernstein, a retired baker,came out of retirement to train workers who lost their jobs in the WorldTrade Center. Aisam-Ul-Haq Qurishi, a Pakistani tennis star, refused tobuckle under governmental pressure to break with his Israeli doublespartner, Amir Hadad. Yoni Jesner, a Scottish victim of a bus bomb in TelAviv, donated his organs and saved a young Palestinian girl. Rami Mahhamid,an Israeli-Arab, was wounded as he helped Israeli police thwart a suicidebomber. Unexpected events unfold and even in a time of disturbing headlines,life triumphs.
The triumph of the Maccabees over the powerful Assyrian-Greek army was seenas a miraculous triumph of the few over the many. But even the victory issymbolic--no matter how great our fears or daunting our challenges,miracles assist our hard work, allowing our convictions to prevail.
Hanukkah also takes place in the ninth month of the Jewish year, alluding tothe miracle of birth. It reminds us of the miracle that resides in all newthings that give us hope for the future.
Thanksgiving, too, has its miracles. The celebration is based on the mostessential source of wonder there is--that life is sustained each year bythe ongoing gift of rain and soil that turns tiny seeds into a plentifulharvest. Sharing the bounty of the harvest on Thanksgiving echoes Sukkot,the biblical holiday on which the American tradition is based.
In addition, considering the ethnic and religious divisions that have causedturmoil around the world, America's relative sense of tolerance andcooperation between its many peoples is truly miraculous. Each year, newAmericans celebrate Thanksgiving by giving praise for a safety and freedomfor their families that they could not have imagined before.
This year, I encourage you and your family or friends to consider the miracles of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. You might take a few moments as you sit around the table, or rejoice in the light of the menorah, to ask: What miracles have you experienced in your lifetime? What miracles have we, either as Americans, oras a Jewish people, experienced?
By asking, and responding, to these questions, you will be invoking some ofthe words of the prayer recited when we kindle the Hanukkkah lights. The songHanerot Hallalu includes the line: "For the miracles and wonders ...in thosedays and in these days."
May you and your family be doubly blessed this Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.