Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger taught in his classic collection, Sefat Emet, that the memory of all miracles tends to fade in time, so, throughout the biblical period, God would keep performing new miracles when the light of the previous miracle had faded. In this way, Israel always would keep the memory of God and draw strength from it. However, since the time of the Maccabees, the miracle of Chanukah has been the only miracle to sustain us and to keep God's memory alive in us.
He says, "Chanukah is the last miracle that was performed for us. Therefore, we have to find special strength in it" (pp. 1:208-209). Chanukah, he says, is uniquely able to keep burning within us because "the light of the Chanukah miracle has the power to keep renewing itself until the final redemption comes." This is why, he says, the holiday is called "Chanukah," meaning, "rededication"—this holiday has the ability to rededicate and renew itself through the ages and never fade.
When we consider that the minor holiday of Chanukah is, indeed, one of the two most celebrated Jewish holidays by Jews in North America (along with Passover), it does seem that this little flickering flame of a holiday does have a remarkable power to keep itself going.
We are on the eve now of the last night of Chanukah, the final commemoration this year of the final miracle that renews itself and must sustain until the world's redemption. Therefore, it is a fitting day to ask this: How do you keep the light of spirituality burning in your life? How do you keep the memory of the miracles you have experienced fresh in your mind? How do you sustain a sense of wonder for the world around you?
This is the great question at the center of all of the world's religious and spiritual traditions. We are not just flesh and blood. We are radiant beings of light created to fulfill a divine purpose, yet we keep forgetting this about ourselves. How do we keep ourselves from forgetting?
Judaism's answer takes the form of a hundred small acts of remembrance to be repeated every day. Every time we express gratitude for the food we have to eat, every time we greet a new day as a magical gift that has been given to us without our asking, every time we help a person in need, every time we struggle to find meaning in our lives, and every time we open our hearts in prayer, we help ourselves to keep the fire within us kindled and to keep ourselves from forgetting who we really are.
Tonight, the Chanukah lights will burn their brightest and then sputter out until next year. However, those lights are a symbol of the light that we can renew daily within ourselves by the way that we choose to live our lives. May this year's Chanukah lights inspire you to rededicate yourself to a year of remembering.
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