The Talmud says that there once was a dispute between the two major rabbinic schools about the way that the Chanukah menorah should be lit. The students of Shammai claimed that one should light eight lights on the first night of Chanukah and reduce the number of lights by one each night. The followers of Hillel said the opposite—on the first night one light should be kindled and one light should be added each night (B. Shabbat 21b).
The House of Hillel had a different perspective. Lighting the Chanukah lights, to them, was not just a representation of the literal burning of the Temple Menorah when the Maccabees rededicated it. It is meant to represent something deeper, something more spiritual. What does the increasing number of candles on our menorahs represent?
I asked this question a few years ago of a group of students in a b'nei mitzvah preparation class. I will never forget how startled I was when a ten-year-old boy gave this precocious answer: "The lights of the menorah represent the increasing audacity of the miracle." I was floored.
Yes. On the second day after the Temple Menorah was lit, there would have been some surprise and some gratitude that the meager amount of oil was still burning. By the fourth day, the surprise may have deepened into a quiet smiling of the soul. Something special was happening. By the seventh day (that's the day that starts this evening at sunset), there would have been no way to ignore the fact that there was a true miracle. Even if the light had grown more feeble with time, the audacity of the miracle had grown to proportions that could not be denied. Those seven bright, burning lights on our menorahs tonight represent that growing audacity.
And so it is in our lives, if we allow our perception of miracles to burn brightly within us.
For me, there is no greater miracle in my life than my daughters. On the day that each of them was born, I held them in my arms and knew that I had been touched by God. Every day since, the miracle has grown. They have progressed, step by step, into walking, talking, thinking, feeling, caring and creating people. My oldest now is on the doorstep of remarkable and beautiful womanhood.
The seventh night of Chanukah has a special meaning in some Northern African Jewish communities. It is called Chag HaBanot, "The Festival of the Daughters." (I learned this today from the blog of my dear friend Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi). What could be more appropriate for recognizing the audacity of the miracle tonight than to honor the wonder that parents are privileged to witness in the growth of their children?
The Chanukah lights are not just a reminder of events that happened to other people, long ago. They are a reminder of the blossoming miracles that we experience in our own lives. Tonight is the seventh night. This year's Chanukah cycle almost has reached its climax. Look into those lights and recognize the overflowing growth of the miraculous all around you.
Other posts on this topic:
The Blind and the Light
What is Chanukah?
The Miracle of the First Day of Chanukah
Season of Miracles, Season of Hope